An electric school bus produced by Blue Bird Corp.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many students here in Wisconsin took classes virtually from home rather than going to school and risking infection. Now, with all Americans 12 and up eligible for vaccines and nearly 40% of Wisconsinites vaccinated, many of our schools have either returned to normal or are making plans to do so after summer break. While this should allow us to take a sigh of relief, we must take this moment to address another health concern our children will face as they get back on buses to go to school: the long-standing threat of toxic diesel exhaust.
Yellow school buses have been American icons since 1939, and over the ensuing decades, diesel has become the fuel of choice for these important vehicles. In Wisconsin, 59,763 kids ride about 10,000 big yellow buses — most of which run on diesel — to school every day.
This is a huge danger. Diesel exhaust can cause cancer and respiratory diseases. The toxic fuel can also worsen existing conditions such as asthma and is linked to higher rates of mortality. Inhaling these fumes can especially hurt children, whose lungs are still developing. Researchers have also linked breathing polluted air from diesel school buses to poor academic performance.
What makes this such a tragedy is there’s no good reason to keep using diesel buses now that school districts can opt for electric ones. These next-generation electric buses create less net air pollution than diesel ones, even when charged on electric grids run on gas or coal. And that statistic will only improve in upcoming years as we start generating more of our power from renewable sources such as wind and solar. And let’s not forget: Using electricity rather than fossil fuels means zero tailpipe emissions into our kids’ lungs.