Take Action to Reduce Diesel Pollution for Health of Children

Guest Blog | October 14, 2010 | Energy Policy

This post was co-authored by Laura Wilson.

October is Children’s Health Month and we want to take this opportunity to tell you about the serious health threat of diesel pollution, the risk of cumulative exposure, and how you can help mitigate this deadly pollution and protect your kids.

During the course of a single day, children can experience multiple exposures to harmful diesel pollution. While the school bus is the safest form of transportation for kids to get to school, diesel pollution can accumulate in the cabins of school buses to levels many times higher than acceptable by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. If your child also attends one of the third of all U.S. public schools that are located within the “air pollution danger zone” near major roadways , their risks from exposure are further increased. And, if there are any major construction projects underway near their homes or schools, the risks continue to accumulate. All of this exposure can have severe, even deadly consequences.

Photo courtesy of Clean Air Task Force
Photo courtesy of Clean Air Task Force

Studies show that diesel exhaust contributes to aggravated asthma, irritated eyes, throat, and nose, as well as reduced lung growth and function. Diesel engines emit a toxic combination of elemental black carbon particles sheathed in layers of toxics, metals, secondary sulfate and nitrate, and organic carbon compounds.

Diesel Particle: Photo Courtesy of Clean Air Task Force
Diesel Particle: Photo Courtesy of Clean Air Task Force

When inhaled, these tiny particles get deep inside the lungs. This causes irritation and can exacerbate respiratory illnesses. Some of the particles are even small enough to pass through the blood barrier and enter the blood stream directly. Children are especially vulnerable to air pollution, including diesel exhaust. In reviewing a policy statement on “Ambient Air Pollution: Health Hazards to Children” from the American Academy of Pediatricians, Medical News Today states:

“Children are more vulnerable than adults to the adverse effects of air pollution for several reasons. First, children have increased exposure to many air pollutants because they spend more time outside, have higher breathing rates and higher levels of physical activity compared with adults. In addition, the human lung continues to develop through adolescence, and exposure to harmful air pollutants during childhood has an important impact on lung development.”

Check your area’s diesel soot health impacts on this interactive map from Clean Air Task Force.

The U.S. EPA began regulating new diesel engines in 2007 for on-road vehicles such as long haul trucks and garbage trucks, and new non-road engines such as construction equipment in 2010. But it is important to bear in mind that the reason diesel engines are relied upon so heavily is their high fuel economy and long lives. Diesel engines can last for two decades or more, meaning engines built as recently as 2006, which are regulated less stringently, could continue polluting at high levels until 2030. Luckily, there are solutions for reducing and managing your children’s (and your own) risk.  Read on…

Take Action NOW to Reduce Diesel Pollution!
• Ask your city, county, schools and local businesses to establish anti-idling policies. Reducing idling by diesel vehicles can help reduce pollution.  A listing of state and local idling policies is available here.  Please share this with your local decision makers.

No Idling Here!
No Idling Here!

• Help extend the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA). In 2005, DERA was enacted by Congress. This voluntary program distributes funds through grants and loans at the federal, regional and state levels. Every state in the country has benefited from the DERA program. The Act will expire unless reauthorized by Congress by 2011.  Ask your legislators to support DERA reauthorization during the lame duck session.

• Support Clean Construction in the Transportation Bill and in your local construction projects.  The U.S. Congress is expected to pass legislation reauthorizing Transportation and Infrastructure spending. This reauthorization process is an opportunity to make sure that the massive amount of public dollars invested in transportation infrastructure does not endanger the public living, working and traveling in construction project areas. Clean construction is the concept that supports the inclusion of a provision that requires, and provides funding to ensure, that construction equipment used on federally-funded transportation construction projects utilizes modern pollution controls.  Ask your legislators to support Clean Construction in the Transportation bill!

• Encourage your local government and school system to apply for funding for diesel retrofits for their fleets.  EPA Region/Southeast Diesel Collaborative will be announcing the availability of new funds in November.  A workshop on the funding and how to apply will be held in Atlanta, Ga., on October, 27, 2010.  Encourage your decision-makers and fleet managers to attend!  Filter technology exists to retrofit old engines and bring them into compliance with new air quality standards. The U.S. EPA National Clean Diesel Campaign maintains a list of Verified Technology that can be applied to older diesel vehicles/engines to reduce particle exhaust by up to 85%. Most filters fit onto the tailpipe like the regular muffler. There are also filters that reduce the exhaust emitted from the engine directly, which are great for school buses that transport our precious cargo.


Avoiding diesel exhaust altogether is nearly impossible, but the strategies laid out here are effective options that will reduce the risks. As part of Children’s Health Month and throughout the year, we urge you to take action to eliminate diesel pollution and protect the air we breathe EVERY DAY!

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