Lately, American schools have been pretty responsive to public health and safety threats facing children. Witness the rise of peanut butter bans or the dwindling number of vending machines in schools.
But schools haven’t been very successful at tackling what is arguably a much bigger threat to children’s health: air pollution caused by driving. Asthma is the most common chronic disease among children. Car exhaust can trigger attacks and may cause asthma itself, and schools are where children tend to be especially exposed. In school zones, levels of air pollutants “may significantly exceed community background levels, particularly in the presence of idling school buses,” according to researchers with the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
Every morning and afternoon at schools around the country, pick-up and drop-off times are free-for-alls of mindless idling, with tailpipes spitting poisonous chemicals into the air children breathe. “Monitoring at schools has shown elevated levels of benzene, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and other air toxics during the afternoon hour coinciding with parents picking up their children,” according to the U.S. EPA.
“One major issue with air pollution is that it is invisible,” says Anneka Whisker of the group Moms for Clean Air. “Out of sight, out of mind.”
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are five things schools can do to help reduce pollution from idling and asthma.
1. Encourage active transportation
To reduce air pollution at school, make walking and biking as safe and practical as possible.