State to reduce emission on school buses by 90 percent

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exhaust pipeBOSTON - Traveling to school should become a healthier experience for Massachusetts children after state officials make good on their pledge to reduce school bus exhaust emissions by 90 percent over the next three years. 

Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Ed Coletta said Monday that the state would spend $22.5 million over the next three years to install exhaust filters on all school buses and regional transit authority buses throughout Massachusetts. Roughly 8,000 school buses and about 600 regional transit buses will be retrofitted.

“It’s clearly going to be very beneficial,” Coletta said about reducing the amount of particulate-filled soot spewed by the buses’ diesel engines.

“Children tend to breathe more deeply than adults. They’re clearly at a very tender age where the emissions could impact them. This is an important piece to make sure they’re protected,” he said.

Coletta said the promise stemmed from environmental agreements reached with federal authorities in the 1990s in anticipation that the Big Dig’s completion would bring more cars through Boston. He said making the buses cleaner was one step state officials took to offset increased traffic emissions.

The bus retrofitting plan is outlined in an agreement between DEP and the executive offices of Environmental Affairs and Transportation.

Jack Spengler, environmental health professor at Harvard University’s School of Public Health, said studies in the United States and Europe have shown higher rates of asthma among people who live near high traffic routes. He said the particulates from diesel exhaust are a prime contributor to air pollution and also carries carcinogens.

“If you reduce the (air pollution) burden for individuals as well as the general public, there are health benefits,” Spengler said.

Laurie Stillman, executive director of the Asthma Regional Council, said asthma is one of the most common medical maladies affecting children.

“We don’t know what causes asthma. But we do know what triggers it, and diesel is one of the triggers,” she said.

Gwen Ruta of Environmental Defense, a nonprofit group working on environmental problems, said money spent on reducing diesel emissions more than pays for itself in health care cost savings.

“Every dollar invested in filtering out pollutants in diesel exhaust yields at least $12 in health benefits, making this a very cost-effective way to cut air pollution,” Ruta said.

The MBTA already has retrofitted its buses or switched to cleaner-burning compressed natural gas. The Boston public school system began retrofitting its buses in 2002. So far, about 250 buses in the 750-bus fleet are running cleaner.

“School bus drivers have reported that the air around the buses seems cleaner, but it’s a little hard to quantify,” Boston school system spokesman Jonathan Palumbo said.

The agreement between DEP and the executive offices of Environmental Affairs and Transportation also sets a 2016 completion date for a tunnel to be built between two sections of the MBTA Silver Line bus service.

Transportation spokesman Jon Carlisle said the roughly half-mile tunnel section would run from the area of Tufts-New England Medical Center to South Station. Currently there is a break in service between the two sections of the Silver Line, which uses busways to run from Dudley Square in Roxbury to Downtown Crossing and from South Station to Logan Airport.

source - AP