Cleaner buses mean breathable air

Feb. 13, 2003, midnight | By Rachel Yood | 20 years, 3 months ago

Bus emissions increase dangerous particulate matter

MCPS is the only area school system to own cleaner, alternative-fuel buses, but 1,487 of MCPS' 1,550 buses still run on diesel fuel. Particulate matter from diesel exhaust is known to cause lung problems and is suspected of causing cancer; according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), particulate matter causes 15,000 deaths annually. This summer provided our community with ample evidence of our declining air quality: On a record-setting two Code Purple days and nine Code Red days, our air was unhealthy for normal adults. This warning system is based on the level of ozone in the air. Symptoms of ozone exposure include coughing, reduced lung capacity, chest pain, headache, nausea and possibly the development of asthma. And diesel exhaust is a major contributor to ozone levels.

The three compressed natural gas (CNG) buses MCPS purchased in 1993 are a step in the right direction, but much more must be done to address the abysmal—and worsening—quality of our air. MCPS is expected to purchase 36 new buses and spend $55.3 million on transportation this year. This money must not be used to purchase diesel-fueled buses that threaten our health.

No one is more adversely affected by diesel emissions than small children, whose lungs are still developing and who breathe 50 percent more air per pound of body weight than do adults, according to the American Lung Association and the EPA. Ozone is particularly dangerous for children. The EPA labels our region as having "severe" levels of ozone, levels exceeded only by the "extreme" conditions in Los Angeles. MCPS has a responsibility to protect its students' health, so it ought to work harder to limit its own contribution to our severely polluted air.

Facing a budget shortfall, MCPS will not foot the bill for cleaning up its buses on its own, nor should it have to do so. The few CNG buses MCPS owns were purchased with the help of a grant from the state government, and the school system should receive similar aid to clean up the rest of its fleet. The problem of declining air quality affects the entire region, giving the entire region a stake in seeking a solution.

The state of California provides financial support to school districts that need to reduce emissions. According to Michael Murphy, principal environmental planner of California's bay-area air district, California schools have begun to use CNG buses to the tune of $12,000 additional state-funded dollars per bus. The state has also purchased diesel school buses with filters that transform 90 percent of particulate matter into harmless gas, adding an extra $5,000 to $10,000 to the cost of a new school bus; fitting such a filter on an older bus costs between $5,000 and $8,000. Other filters, which reduce emissions by about 30 percent, can cost as little as $500 per bus. Because MCPS buses have a lifespan of 12 years, filters provide a logical option to clean the air while preserving buses that are expected to function for years to come.

MCPS must set an example for the rest of the community by using cleaner alternatives to diesel fuel instead of pumping dangerous pollutants into our already unhealthy air.

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Rachel Yood. Rachel Yood is a junior in the Communication Arts Program at Blair. She is excited to join Silver Chips as a page editor, but suspicious of the time the newspaper seems to take from her primary activity: sleeping. When not working or curled up in … More »

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