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Idaho School Buses Go Green

DEQ officials say emissions pose a particular risk to children who run a greater risk than adults of developing lung and respiratory ailments.


Idaho's yellow school buses are about to get a little bit greener.

As part of its $2.2 million grant initiative to a number of Western states, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is funnelling $77,448 to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality to fund the retrofit of school buses with new emissions controls--a gift some say should have long-term benefits to public health and the environment.

The first round of retrofits will see buses in districts across the state fitted with two products--a ventilation unit, called a Spiracle, that helps seal emissions out of passenger compartments; and diesel oxidation catalysts, which help diesel engines burn fuel more efficiently, thereby reducing emissions--that, when purchased and installed together, cost about $4,000. Other buses will be fitted with fuel-operated heaters, eliminating the need for buses to idle while heating the engine to operating temperature and warming the passenger compartment.

Between 2008-2011, DEQ received $856,739 in Diesel Emission Reduction Act funding, installing clean technologies on 287 Idaho buses that will, over their operational lives, reduce emissions of nitrous oxide by 139 tons, 4,600 tons of carbon dioxide and save 414,594 gallons of diesel fuel.

The big winners in the wake of the Dec. 19 announcement are Idaho school children, according to Michael Hahn, DEQ diesel project manager. He said emissions pose a particular risk to children, whose bodies are still developing and run a greater risk than adults of developing lung and respiratory ailments after exposure to noxious gasses.

"The emissions find their way right into the passenger section of the bus," he said.

Approximately 105,000 students ride Idaho school buses every day, traversing 23 million miles around the state each year, all the while being exposed to substances that have been identified as carcinogens by the World Health Organization.

Beyond the health ramifications of exposing young people to exhaust, diesel emissions also pose environmental challenges in the form of black carbon aerosols. These particulates ascend into the atmosphere and return to Earth in precipitation. They absorb heat and reduce the reflective properties of ice; when caught in snowpack, they cause snow to melt more quickly in the sun and increase ground temperatures.

DEQ has also helped Idaho school districts purchase 34 new buses that have emissions reduction technologies already equipped, and school districts have been eager to work with DEQ on the project.