Day after day, children are riding to school on aging buses, breathing what some activists say is a dangerous brew of pollutants. State officials around the country are struggling to find the money to carry out initiatives to reduce emissions on school buses. And Congress has yet to deliver on the $1 billion over five years it promised in 2005 to help states clean up diesel fleets, including school buses.
Breathing high concentrations of diesel emissions — known as particulates — can cause minor ailments like headaches, wheezing and dizziness. But studies have also found that the contaminants can do more serious damage. Recent studies by the Environmental Protection Agency and other groups link the emissions to asthma and lung cancer.
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Two types of filters are available to reduce the most dangerous emissions on older buses. Diesel particulate filters, which are installed in place of mufflers at about $700 each, can reduce tailpipe emissions by 85 percent. Closed crankcase filtration systems, which go under the hood and cost $7,500, can reduce engine soot by 90 percent. A bus can be fitted with one or both filters. An estimated 390,000 diesel school buses are on the road, according to the E.P.A.
Most newer buses meet stricter emissions guidelines and do not need filters. But more than 100,000 diesel buses were manufactured before 1990 and are big polluters, according to the agency. Researchers say emissions enter through doors and windows on older buses. The longer the ride, the more harmful it is to children, they say.
Clean bus advocates say California is the leader on the issue. Voters there approved a $200 million measure last year to clean up its school bus fleet. But in many other states, money to help schools retrofit buses has been nonexistent. In Texas, lawmakers created a grant program two years ago to help schools pay for the filters. But they never financed the effort.
Congress passed the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act in 2005, a bipartisan initiative that authorized $1 billion to help states clean up diesel fleets. But states have seen none of that money. The Bush administration proposed modest financing for the initiative in its last two budgets, but Congress has not acted.
Experts say children are particularly vulnerable because soot particles can disrupt development of their respiratory systems. Also, children breathe more quickly than adults and take in more air per pound. continue reading