A community campaign in which bus drivers and parents turn off their vehicles while waiting to drop off and pick up kids at school has resulted in significant reductions in traffic-related air pollution.
The anti-idling campaign, a collaboration involving four community organizations, has the potential to improve the health of students.
The project involves the Cincinnati Public Schools, the Cincinnati Health Department, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and the University of Cincinnati Department of Environmental Health. A study of the project’s impact on air pollution, led by a researcher at Cincinnati Children’s, is online in the journal Environmental Science Processes and Impacts, published by The Royal Society of Chemistry.
“The concentration of air pollutants near schools often significantly exceeds background levels in the community, particularly when idling school buses are present,” says Patrick Ryan, PhD, a researcher at Cincinnati Children’s and lead author of the study. “Anti-idling campaigns are frequently attempted to improve air quality, but until now, no one has evaluated how effective they are.”
Dr. Ryan and his colleagues studied outdoor air quality at four Cincinnati Public Schools before and after initiating an anti-idling campaign. They sampled pollutants before buses and automobiles arrived in the morning and again after they left in the afternoon. The researchers also took samples of air at four sites in the communities surrounding the schools.
The Cincinnati Anti-Idling Campaign (CAIC) was led by the Cincinnati Health Department and Cincinnati Public Schools and was conducted during the fall and winter of 2010-2011.
The campaign consisted of several components, including:
- An educational program for school-bus drivers and parents, followed by an anti-idling pledge
- Anti-idling signs near school drop-off and pick-up zones
- Student and staff assemblies regarding air quality
- A student-led movie
- Monitoring of idling activity
Before the campaign began, the researchers measured average outdoor concentration of fine particulate matter during the school day at the four schools. Fine particles, such as those found in smoke and haze, are 2.5 micrometers in diameter and smaller. The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems. Smaller particles have greater potential to be inhaled into the lungs and can cause serious health effects.
The researchers also measured elemental carbon (soot emitted from diesel exhaust) and particle number concentration (the number of particles present in a given volume of air).
Prior to the anti-idling campaign, the air quality measurements exceeded community background levels at three of four schools. The differences were greatest at the school with the most buses.
Following the campaign, the researchers again measured air quality. At the school with the most buses (39), background levels of particulate matter had decreased 76 percent and elemental carbon decreased 63 percent.
“The results of this study demonstrate, for the first time, that not idling is a simple and effective policy that can improve air quality at schools, especially schools with a large number of buses,” says Dr. Ryan.
The study was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (R21ES017957).
About Cincinnati Children’s
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center ranks third in the nation among all Honor Roll hospitals in U.S.News and World Report’s 2013 Best Children’s Hospitals ranking. It is ranked #1 for cancer and in the top 10 for nine of 10 pediatric specialties. Cincinnati Children’s is one of the top three recipients of pediatric research grants from the National Institutes of Health, and a research and teaching affiliate of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. The medical center is internationally recognized for improving child health and transforming delivery of care through fully integrated, globally recognized research, education and innovation. Additional information can be found at www.cincinnatichildrens.org. Connect on the Cincinnati Children’s blog, via Facebook and on Twitter.