Central Oregon DailyTired of diesel fumes, these moms are pushing for electric school buses

Tired of diesel fumes, these moms are pushing for electric school buses

Tired of diesel fumes, these moms are pushing for electric school buses

Areli Sanchez鈥檚 daughter, Aida, used to be one of 20 million American kids who ride a diesel bus to school each day.

Aida has asthma. When she was little, she complained about the聽smell and cloud of fumes聽on her twice-daily trip.

鈥淲hen she would come home from school or be on the bus, she got headaches and sick to her stomach. She said, 鈥楳ami, I don鈥檛 feel well, I feel dizzy,鈥欌 Sanchez said in Spanish from Las Vegas. Aida missed classes a lot when her asthma was bad. Research shows diesel exhaust exposure can cause students to聽miss school聽and affect learning.

She was admitted to the hospital for an asthma attack in second grade, and after that Sanchez began driving Aida to school.

Diesel聽exhaust聽from school buses potentially affects one-third of U.S. students, their parents and educators each day, according to federal data. It鈥檚 a known聽carcinogen聽plus it contains harmful nitrogen oxides, volatile gases and particles that聽exacerbate lung issues. It also contributes to global warming.

Most affected by these environmental and health issues are聽Black, Latino, Indigenous and lower-income communities, who often rely on buses to get to school and are also more likely to suffer from asthma than other students. Some of the biggest drivers for change are parents worried about their children.

For Areli Sanchez鈥 family in Las Vegas, things continued to deteriorate.

She felt like she had to stop working. 鈥淚 didn鈥檛 know when we were going to get another call from school about another asthma attack,鈥 she said.

A few years after her daughter started having problems, Sanchez saw the opportunity to get involved in the nascent movement聽for electric buses. They don鈥檛 smell. They aren鈥檛 noisy. They cost more up front, but cost less to run and can meaningfully reduce emissions, making them a climate change solution.

Now Sanchez has been making this case locally and beyond for four years, even taking a long diesel bus ride to the state capital, Carson City, to plead for funding from the legislature.

Recently she started to get some traction when the Clark County School District, her district, began to swap some of its buses for electric. These still make up only a fraction of the nearly 2,000 in the fleet, but she鈥檚 optimistic.

Some similar聽progress is taking place throughout the nation聽as a sense of urgency builds around worsening air quality and environmental injustice related to the warming climate.

Children are generally more harmed by air pollution than adults because their bodies are still developing, and because they breathe in more air per body size than adults do, said University of Michigan epidemiology and public health researcher Sara Adar, who studies the link between health and school buses.

鈥淎s they鈥檙e burning their fuel and as the engine is spinning, they often are releasing very, very small particles that can get deep into our lungs and cause havoc throughout the body,鈥 Adar said.

Kids also can spend considerable time around idling buses, she noted, lengthening their exposure to something that can permanently damage their health. Research has highlighted poor air quality聽inside older diesel school buses, too.

鈥淚t鈥檚 this perpetual cycle of bad air quality,鈥 said Lonnie Portis, a policy and advocacy manager for the activist group We Act for Environmental Justice in New York City. In hard-hit, or environmental justice neighborhoods, he said, 鈥測ou鈥檙e removing at least some of that by putting electric school buses in the rotation.鈥

Some school districts have switched to newer versions of diesel buses, which are more efficient and produce less pollution, as one way to reduce students鈥 exposure. Others, especially in underfunded districts, keep their older, more polluting vehicles.

Much like Sanchez, Liz Hurtado, the mother of four children who ride the bus in Virginia Beach, Virginia, has spent years advocating for electric buses.

Her oldest daughter also got headaches riding a diesel bus, and she鈥檇 drive her to school when she could, she said.

Now a national field manager for the grassroots group Moms Clean Air Force and active in a program dedicated to protecting Latino children鈥檚 health, Hurtado appeals to school districts to buy electric buses. She schedules events for community members to see and drive electric vehicles, hosts webinars and meetings and teaches others how to reach out to legislators.

鈥淜nowing all of the stressors and anxiety from climate change, and the fact that this is a huge burden for our children,鈥 Hurtado said. 鈥淭hat places a burden on us, right?鈥

While an electric bus isn鈥檛 yet available to her, she still feels 鈥渞eally excited about the momentum.鈥

Federal money is now the leading source of funding for electric school buses, and prioritizes low-income, rural or Tribal communities, which advocates see as a huge win. Most electric school buses on the road today have landed in those areas, according to WRI.

鈥淚t means that we are putting the solution closest to the problem,鈥 said Carolina Chacon, coalition manager for the Alliance for Electric School Buses, a group of nonprofit organizations that has been expanding.

Sanchez said Aida might not get to take advantage of the electric buses, since she is now 16.

鈥淏ut other moms won鈥檛 have to worry like I did because of the fumes,鈥 she said.

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