Cleaning up school buses in Texas

EDF has led the charge to clean up polluting buses so kids can breathe easier

Most of Texas’ 35,000 school buses run on diesel fuel and emit tons of unhealthy pollution that gets trapped inside the bus, where children breathe it in.

Texas children riding to school in buses built before 2007 may be breathing air inside the cabin of the bus that contains 5-10 times more diesel pollution than the air outside the bus. These older bus engines spew nearly 40 toxic substances and smog-forming emissions. Children, who breathe in more air per pound of body weight than adults, are therefore exposed to even higher health risks because their lungs are still developing.

New buses are much cleaner than old ones. Over time school districts are replacing older, polluting models. But new buses are expensive (as much as $120,000).

One solution for cash-strapped school districts is to outfit older buses with newer engines or tailpipe technologies (more solutions).

What we’re doing

Environmental Defense Fund is urging the state to spur cleanup of school bus fleets. We’ve asked the state to help districts replace older buses more quickly or retrofit them with filters.

See our work to clean up old, polluting school buses in Texas and the news feature from Houston. Diesel particulate filters, installed in the bus exhaust system, dramatically reduce particle tailpipe emissions. A crankcase filter, installed under the hood, reroutes pollution so it doesn’t seep into the cabin. Together, these technologies cut 90 percent of diesel particle emissions and cost a fraction of a new bus.

New technologies that also reduce ozone-forming nitrogen oxides are also candidates for school bus retrofits. Filtered – or retrofitted – are almost as clean as new buses meeting current federal air quality health standards.

Our progress

As of the 2010-2011 school year, the Texas Education Agency reported that nearly two-thirds of current school buses were over six years old, emitting at least 10 times as much particulate matter as older buses, and much more in many cases because a large proportion of the fleet is even older. More than 700,000 children are impacted, meaning that nearly half of the students relying on school buses for transportation in Texas still ride dirty buses.

However, we are making progress in Texas. A progress report in 2012 showed that more than 7,000 buses have been retrofitted, 700 buses were replaced, and several other projects related to clean fuels and idle reduction were successfully implemented in Texas. Over $38 million was spent on these projects, with funding received from the federal and state government, as well as from local donors. More recently, EDF is working with Houston-area partners to identify ways to address school bus emissions from non-standard operations, since some buses continue to be used in the private sector long after their retirement from one of Texas’ independent school districts. These efforts protect the health of our children and our communities from particulate matter. Nevertheless, there is still more to do.

What you can do

Tell your school district’s trustees, superintendent, and transportation directors to apply for these funds or adopt a no idling policy.

Download the documents

We partnered with the Conroe Independent School District and the Clean Air Task Force to investigate the presence of diesel exhaust particles inside school buses.

Additional resources