BERKELEY, Calif. — The National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) and Coalition for clear Air published a report, No Breathing in the Aisles: Diesel Exhaust Inside School Buses, that charges “children who ride a diesel school bus may be exposed to up to four times more toxic diesel exhaust than someone traveling in a car directly in front of it.”
School bus manufacturers and industry groups lashed back, charging the study is biased, flawed, and part of an effort by environmentalists to force school districts in Southern California to purchase only alternative fueled buses, primarily compressed natural gas.
According to the NRDC report, “The excess exhaust levels on the buses were more than eight times the average levels found in the ambient air in California and 23 to 46 times higher than levels considered to be a significant cancer risk according to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and federal guidelines.”
The NDRC report, released February 13, 2001, states that researchers from the NRDC, the U.C. Berkeley School of Public Health and the Coalition for Clean Air, a Santa Monica-based environmental organization, rode rented school buses along actual elementary school bus routes in the Los Angeles area. The report states that researchers conducted “nearly 20 hours of sampling results on four school buses produced dramatic results.”
According to the report, “Assuming bus rides totaling one or two hours per day, 180 days per year for 10 years, the groups estimated the diesel exhaust exposures are likely to result in an additional 23 to 46 cancer cases per million children exposed.”
The findings of the report were not corroborated. A standard methodology when researches seek to establish verifiable scientific evidence is for other researchers to independently verify the results. To date, no other research group has verified the NRDC findings.
International Corp., a manufacturer of school buses, assailed the study as flawed and biased. “The study — and its interpretation by the media — fails to recognize important recent findings by the California Air Resource Board,” said Tom Trueblood, manager of Public Affairs International for the company. International manufactures a school bus that operates on low sulphur diesel known as “green diesel.” The fuel formulation has been accepted by the California Air Resources Board as an alternative fuel.
“In December of last year, the California Air Resources Board found that buying $30 million worth of Green Diesel TechnologyT buses reduces emissions by 196 tons MORE than $30 million worth of natural gas buses,” he said. “It also found that you could buy nearly 100 more Green Diesel Technology buses than natural gas for the same $30 million. That means that we could retire 100 more older, polluting buses by buying Green Diesel rather than natural gas buses.”
The School Bus Information Council, an industry group, weighed in on the issue. “Unfortunately, school buses appear to be caught in the middle of a bigger political battle in California. As the Times also pointed out, ‘…environmental groups have mounted a major campaign to reduce the use of diesel engines in California.’ Sadly, it is a typical publicity technique to heighten public concern for your agenda by sensationalizing the alleged adverse affects on children. Frightening parents and children about the safety of school bus transportation is an unfair way for the environmental advocates to promote their agenda and stoke the fires of debate about air quality in California.”
The Council said a far more immediate danger to school children is the high number of fatalities that occur to children riding to and from school in vehicles other than the school bus. “Some 600 children are killed every year because they opt not to ride a school bus and use some other form of transportation. In fact, it is far more dangerous, going to and from school, for a student to drive or ride with a parent or friend than it is to ride a school bus. People who are truly concerned about student safety should work to ensure that more than 16 percent of the children in California – the lowest percentage in the nation – ride the bus to school and from school.”
The South Coast Air Quality Management District is scheduled to vote later this month on whether to ban the purchase of diesel powered school buses in the five-county air management district. The District’s Feb. 21 vote on Rule 1195 is intended to expedite implementation of Gov. Gray Davis’ “Lower Emisnewsion School Bus Program.” a proposal to spend up to $50-million for the purchase of new school buses and retrofits of existing school buses to reduce particulate matter emissions. School bus proponents say that release of the report just weeks before the vote is a public relations gimick on the part of environmentalists.
Source: School Transportation News, February 2001.