After driving behind a school bus for the last mile of my trip, I arrived at the office this morning a little nauseous, with more than a little headache. Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP) director Rachel Filippini can probably relate:
More than half of America’s schoolchildren ride a school bus each day. Unfortunately, school buses with outdated emissions controls expose children to diesel particulate matter, a toxic air pollutant that is damaging to their health.
Diesel particulate matter is the No. 1 cancer risk from any toxic outdoor air pollutant in the Pittsburgh region. Diesel particles are also linked to asthma attacks, heart attacks, stroke, diabetes and reduced brain function.
It is important to understand why children are the most susceptible to the harmful effects of air pollution. Children’s bodies are especially vulnerable to toxic chemical actions because of their size and because of the normal processes of growth and development. Whether digging in the dirt, climbing over rocks in a small stream, building a snowman, or playing sports, children spend more time outdoors than adults and, thus, are more likely to be exposed to environmental health hazards than adults. This increased exposure brings with it increased risk. Second, because of their relatively smaller size, children breathe more air and drink more water per unit body weight than adults. As a result, children receive higher doses of pollutants than adults when in the same environment. Finally, many diseases associated with air pollution — chronic lung diseases, cancer, strokes, heart disease, silicosis — occur years after exposure. A 60-year-old adult may not live long enough to develop adverse outcomes from the exposure, whereas a 5-year-old kindergartner has much more time for adverse effects to manifest themselves. So children, because of their age, are more likely to exhibit an adverse outcome to an exposure than adults experiencing the same exposure. For these reasons, children are the most at-risk for adverse health effects from exposure to air pollution (and other environmental toxicants).
Filippini looks at solutions for stopping the exposure of schoolchildren (and the rest of us, too) to toxic diesel fumes on their way to and from school:
The good news is that a solution is readily available to reduce air pollution from school buses. New school buses and older buses that have been retrofitted with a diesel particulate filter emit 90 percent less soot.
For the health of the students, staff and community, school districts must require bus companies to use only buses with emission controls.
Bus companies that are hanging on to older buses need to replace them or upgrade them as soon as possible. These old buses are harming the very thing they are responsible for transporting safely — students.
More about air pollution and children’s health on The PediaBlog here.