The Impact of Diesel Fuel on Children’s Health

School Buses Pose Major Health Risks

Everyday across New York State, children in grades K-12 ride the bus to school. What their parents may not know, however, is the threat these buses pose to their child’s health.

Almost all school-buses run on diesel fuel, which releases high concentrations of particulate matter and ozone when it’s burned. These air pollutants can block airways, making breathing difficult, and diesel fuel exhaust has even been classified by governmental authorities as a probable carcinogen.

Buses have concentrations of diesel exhaust 4 times higher than in passenger cars, and children are particularly susceptible to its impacts. Because they inhale up to 3 times more air per pound than adults, and tend to be very active, children suffer the most from dirty air. Their lungs are not fully developed and their airways often have a small diameter, which increases the likelihood that particulate matter will get lodged in their lungs and impair their ability to breathe.

Of every 1 million children in the U.S., an estimated 23-46 of them will eventually develop cancer as a result of exhaust from diesel burning engines. Of those impacted, children in low-income communities are particularly at risk because their community lacks the resources to purchase new buses or improve technology on existing buses to limit diesel gas exhaust. One study found that “economic indicators significantly affected the odds of a bus receiving funding.”

In order to avoid the worst impacts of diesel fuel exhaust, older buses that are still in operation either need to be brought up to standard or replaced. After 2007, new buses were subject to stringent emissions regulations, but still 250,000 buses remain on the road that are exempt from these regulations.

Children lack the voice to advocate for their own rights, so it is up to the state of New York to protect their health and ensure them access to clean air by replacing outdated, dirty modes of transportation.