September 29, 2022 12:49 pm

Opinion

Could Your Children’s Morning Commute Result in Lower Test Scores? | Opinion

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Each day, parents send their little ones off to school to discover their places in the world – many of them by bus. But, the familiar yellow buses that we trust to safely transport our children could be affecting their performance in school. This is why an investment in EV infrastructure including school buses is crucial.

A study conducted by Georgia State University showed that Georgia children in school districts with a higher percentage of cleaner school buses had better test scores and did better on the aerobic part of the FitnessGram, which students complete each year.

Buses most often run on diesel fuel, which like all fuel, creates nitrogen oxides in the air that can trigger asthma attacks when burned. These nitrogen oxides also increase the chance of children developing asthma and damage lung growth. Teens who play sports in polluted areas are especially more likely to develop new-onset asthma than teens who play sports in communities with clean air.

Scholastic test scores of middle and high school students whose schools were downwind of a highway, packed with vehicles of many kinds, were lower than when they were tested at their previous elementary or middle school. That’s because they have spent months or years breathing air polluted with exhaust fumes. Those students were also more likely to have behavioral incidents in their school records at the new downwind school.

All vehicles that use fossil fuels create air pollution, but a single diesel school bus will produce less air pollution than the many cars needed, if all parents drove their children to school. So, buses are still the safer option for our little ones. We know enough about air pollution to proclaim that replacing diesel school buses with electric buses would be optimal for student health and performance. And right now, we have great opportunities to begin the transition to electric bus fleets.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently took action to help make electric buses a reality in Georgia and across the nation by rolling out a Clean School Bus Rebate Program to help state, local and other organizations purchase zero-emission or “clean” school buses that use alternative fuels to reduce emissions. A total of $17 million was awarded to the EPA as a result of two pieces of legislation passed by Congress. Officials at the EPA announced on March 10 that it has earmarked $7 million of the funds for underserved communities, to replace old diesel buses with new, zero-emission buses. Read more about this at https://www.epa.gov/cleanschoolbus.

The Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act, which was signed into law in November 2021, provides funding for school districts in Georgia and around the country to install charging stations for the electric buses. These investments are not only beneficial for children’s health, but they save school districts on fuel and maintenance costs. They also stimulate the economy by helping businesses in Georgia that manufacture EV batteries or electric school buses.

As officials make plans for Georgia’s $135 million share of the $5 billion granted through the 5-Year National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Program, we hope school districts around the state will seize the opportunity to improve children’s health and performance in school by investing in electric school buses. This is a once-in-a-generation chance for us to make a real difference and begin the switch from diesel fuel to clean energy. Let’s not waste it, because our children deserve to be the healthiest they can be.

This story was written by Dr. Anne Mellinger-Birdsong, a Georgia pediatrician and environmental public health specialist, where this story first appeared.