Pittsburgh Public Schools buses will be spewing less pollution in the future under new contracts with the district’s transportation carriers, but other county districts have been reluctant to follow the road toward cleaner air.
The city district will require companies that provide its school bus service to upgrade their diesel-powered vehicles by 2013-14 so that 85 percent of them are equipped with filters for cleaner exhaust emissions and 100 percent of them have closed ventilation systems for better air inside the buses.
Because of the health hazards associated with diesel fumes, the Environmental Protection Agency, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Heinz Endowments offer various incentives to encourage bus owners to make modifications. In addition, the Allegheny County Health Department in January 2007 set aside $500,000 from its Clean Air Fund to help districts retrofit school buses — both the ones they own and ones owned by bus companies that contract to transport their students.
But so far, only a handful of districts have improved their bus emission controls and only one — Deer Lakes — has taken advantage of the county program. That’s disappointing because 11 county districts would be eligible for grants covering 100 percent of the cost of the upgrades and the remaining Allegheny County districts are eligible for 75 percent. It’s a shame to have this large pot of money — collected from fines paid by polluters — sit unused at the same time that school buses continue to put out diesel-produced pollutants, which can cause lung cancer, strokes, heart attacks, asthma and allergies.
One concern of some districts is that, after modifying their vehicles, they will incur expenses to maintain the clean-air equipment. Given the lack of interest in the program as it is currently devised, it may be time for the county Health Board to upgrade its incentive program, perhaps by making county funding available for some long-term costs as well.
With better emissions controls on school buses, all county residents, and particularly schoolchildren, will be able to breathe easier.