Texas School Bus Fleet Needs Diesel Clean-Up

A new report released by the non-profit group Environmental Defense warns of a number of serious health risks posed by diesel pollution inside Texas school buses and urges the Texas Legislature to help local districts speed up the replacement of older buses and install new high-tech filters on buses expected to remain in service awhile.

“A Breath of Fresh Air” provides the first comprehensive inventory of Texas’ 35,000-plus school buses – by age and by region – and outlines affordable and available technology options that virtually eliminate on-board diesel pollution.

“School buses are the safest way to get our children to school, but that doesn’t mean they’re perfect,” said Betin Santos of Environmental Defense. “The older the bus, the dirtier the exhaust that gets inside the cabin. And Texas has a lot of old buses.”

Diesel engines emit nearly 40 toxic substances and contribute to a laundry list of health problems including dizziness, asthma, chronic bronchitis and cancer risk. And studies have found that the pollution level inside a bus can be five times higher that in the ambient, outside air.

Starting with the 2007 model year, new federal diesel standards will require dramatically reduced diesel emissions from school buses. But buses made as late as this year can emit ten times the amount of harmful diesel particle pollution as next year’s buses will. Buses made before 1994 can emit 25 to 60 times as much.

“The bad news is that there’s a problem,” Santos said. “The good news is there’s a practical and affordable solution.”

For buses with years of service remaining, the report recommends two filter technologies that would capture the harmful pollution. And it notes that the state of Texas has already collected millions of dollars to fund “emission reduction programs”– a significant portion of which has gone unspent by the Legislature.

“There’s money sitting in Austin – money Texans have paid in auto inspection and title fees, and some sales tax receipts – that was collected specifically for this type of cleanup effort,” Santos said. “We need the Legislature to see that this is one of the most tangible air quality projects it could fund. They need to free up the money needed to protect the health of our kids.”

The report concludes that despite some aggressive local efforts, only 10% of the state’s total fleet has been replaced with newer models, retrofitted with pollution control devices, or use clean fuels.

“Local school districts are doing what they can, and some have gotten very creative in finding non-education funding for these cleanup projects,” Santos said. “But they can’t fix the whole fleet without the state’s help.”

The public can download copies of the report on April 5 at http://www.environmentaldefense.org/documents/colin/TexasSchoolBusReportApril2006.pdf

Environmental Defense, a leading national nonprofit organization based in New York, represents more than 400,000 members. Since 1967 we have linked science, economics, and law to create innovative, equitable, and cost-effective solutions to the most urgent environmental problems. The Texas office of Environmental Defense was founded in Austin in 1990.