Pollution Report Card Finds Nation's School Buses Delinquent

From: Robina Suwol
Date: 08 Feb 2002
Time: 00:16:36
Remote Name:



 Only six states and the District of Columbia ranked "ahead of the curve" in the first national report card analyzing pollution threats from school bus fleets. The report found that schoolchildren in every state are needlessly exposed to toxic air pollutants. "California and Washington's fleets were the worst in the country, but every state relies upon high-polluting school buses," said Patricia Monahan, lead author of the new report Pollution Report Card: Grading America's School Bus Fleets, and Senior Clean Vehicles Analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "In a single year, America's average school bus emits as much soot as 125 cars." 

Most states rely on high-polluting diesel school buses to transport children, yet no state monitors the amount of pollution released from school buses or requires school districts to purchase low-emission buses. Pollution Report Card is the first pollution analysis of school buses across the country. It assigns each state fleet-wide grades based on the emissions of toxic soot particulates, smog-forming pollution, and heat-trapping global warming gases. Only six states and the District of Columbia ranked "ahead of the curve." Twenty-three states received a "middle of the road" ranking, while the remaining 21 states did poorly or flunked. 

America's school bus fleet emits almost 95,000 tons of smog-forming pollution and over 3,000 tons of soot every year. According to a study by state air pollution control officers, diesel pollution is responsible for 125,000 cancer cases over a lifetime of exposure. Diesel soot is small enough to evade the body's defenses and lodge deep in children's lungs, increasing the likelihood of asthma, chronic bronchitis, heart disease, and even premature death. Other chemicals emitted by school buses contribute to smog, which impairs the respiratory system and causes coughing, choking, and reduced lung capacity. 

"Diesel pollution harms everyone, but our children and their developing lungs are hurt the most," said Michelle Robinson, Senior Advocate for Clean Vehicles at UCS. "Going to school should not be hazardous to our kids' health." 

The study found that cost-effective investments could dramatically reduce pollution by allowing school districts to switch to buses that run on cleaner fuels, like natural gas. Natural gas buses have a proven track record of success; one in seven newly ordered municipal transit buses are powered by this cleaner burning fuel. In addition, the report found that new clean-up technologies may enable diesel to cut its pollution to very low levels. 

"The large gap in performance between standard diesel buses and natural gas buses shows that even the 'cleanest' state fleet has room for improvement," said Monahan. "Natural gas buses can reduce toxic soot by 90 percent and smog pollutants by 30 percent compared to today's diesel powered buses." The report recommends the establishment of a federal Green School Bus grant program that would enable school districts to replace old, dirty buses with new natural gas or advanced, low-emission diesel buses without tapping other education programs. A similar grant program, which was included in legislation that passed the House of Representatives last year, is currently part of the Senate energy bill. 

"School districts should not have to choose between clean buses and books," said Robinson. "Congress and the administration should provide funding to retire polluting, unhealthy buses." 

Since state and federal officials do not monitor school bus pollution, UCS researchers began their study by contacting Directors of Pupil Transportation from every state to collect information on their school bus fleets. Information provided by the states was supplemented and integrated with data from R.L. Polk & Company and run through a UCS-designed computer model. The final results were then divided into grades, with the level of emissions from a natural gas school bus setting the bar with an "A". No state even came close to receiving this highest grade for superior pollution performance. The report allotted grades "B" through "D" based upon relative performance in each pollution category and gave each state an overall grade average. 

Ahead of the Curve (All "Bs"): Alabama, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Pennsylvania. 

Middle of the Road ("B-" to "C" GPA): Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, Wisconsin. 

Behind the Curve ("C-" to "D+" GPA): Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Wyoming. 

Flunked Out (All "Ds"): California, Washington Pollution Report Card: Grading America's School Bus Fleets can be found on the web at www.ucsusa.org

The Union of Concerned Scientists is a nonprofit partnership of scientists and citizens combining rigorous scientific analysis, innovative policy development and effective citizen advocacy to achieve practical environmental solutions. 

Patricia Monahan 
Clean Vehicles Program 
Union of Concerned Scientists 

(510) 843-1872 
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