Joy Purdie looks forward to the day when her daughter will be able to ride the school bus without her asthma acting up.
“The fumes are horrendous,” says Purdie, whose daughter attends New Haven public schools. “For any kid that has to breathe this air…[it] is bad.”
Soon, however, that air will be significantly cleaner. At a press conference at Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School yesterday afternoon, New Haven and regional officials announced that pollution-control equipment will be installed on its entire fleet of 182 school buses in an effort to reduce harmful diesel emissions. Developed in conjunction with the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), New Haven’s Clean School Bus Program is expected to reduce diesel particulate matter emissions by up to 40 percent.
“We’re seeing more and more health [impacts of diesel emissions],” said Robert W. Varney, the regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA.) “[There is] more pressure on us to ensure that our children have a healthy environment at all times — Exposure to exhaust is a very serious concern.”
New Haven’s campaign to retrofit its school buses is the largest one yet in Connecticut. Norwich, like New Haven, retrofitted its buses with anti-pollution technology last year, while Bridgeport, Stamford and Hartford are planning to update their buses within the coming year.
“It’s a matter of funding,” said Varney, citing in part the high cost of the ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel used in the retrofitted buses.
Diesel particulate emissions are classified as a probable carcinogen and are known to exacerbate the symptoms of asthma, according to the EPA.
New Haven students suffer from disproportionately high levels of asthma, said Yuland Daley, the asthma coordinator for the New Haven Health Department. 18 percent of students in New Haven have asthma, compared with an approximately nine percent rate of infection in the rest of Connecticut.
“It’s important to have policies and programs to help our children,” said Daley, who also highlighted the difficulties faced by those students who lack health coverage.
Reginald Mayo, superintendent of New Haven Public Schools, stressed the amount of work that school nurses have done in assisting children who suffer from asthma, saying he was “pleased to be taking a part” in its solution.
A new air quality curriculum is also being introduced into the city’s middle school science classes. The curriculum, funded with a $99,000 grant from the EPA, focuses on the effects of air pollution as well as ways to combat it.
“The best places to start are places like schools,” New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said. “Our kids can see us leading by example.”
Retrofitting the city’s 182 buses was financed in part from settlements collected from those convicted of air pollution.
It is “poetic justice” that such violators should “pay for the next round of improvements,” Varney said
Purdie said she is relieved that steps are being taken to make the ride to school healthier.
“I’m glad it’s done now,” said Purdie, who believes that “they should have had this done years ago.”