Back-to-School Pollution Could Trigger Respiratory Problems

Last updated Aug 13, 2014

No Idle Zones are popping up across the United States. (Courtesy Mike Licht / flickr)

No Idle Zones are popping up across the United States. (Courtesy Mike Licht / flickr)

Returning to classes after a relaxing summer vacation could pose multiple challenges to school children with asthma and other respiratory conditions. A myriad triggers and factors may contribute to the challenges. But one factor has gained the attention of parents and health professional: health consequences of exhaust from excessive idling.

Many previous studies, including those done in Taiwan, the U.K. and the U.S., have linked traffic-related air pollution to the risk of developing or triggering asthma in children, but ‘No Idling Campaigns’ urge concrete steps to minimize the health impact of excessive idling on school grounds.

It is easier said than done especially when extreme temperatures can either melt or freeze you without an A.C. or a heater. Still some California air pollution control districts, including the one in San Joaquin Valley, are urging parents to turn off their engine while waiting for their children. In Seattle, CoolMom has partnered with the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency to promote “Idle-Free Elementary” schools and protect children’s health.

For its part, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a “Turn Off Your Engine, Kids Breathe Here” campaign designed to educate school bus drivers. While air pollution, fuel, money and wear on the engine factor into their campaign, the impacts on human health is cited as a key reason for their push.

EPA has determined that diesel exhaust is a likely human carcinogen and can contribute to other acute and chronic health concerns (see EPA’s Health Assessment Document for Diesel Exhaust). People with existing heart or lung disease, asthma, bronchitis or other respiratory problems are most sensitive to the health effects of fine particles. The elderly and children are also at risk. Children are more susceptible to air pollution than healthy adults because their respiratory systems are still developing and they have a faster breathing rate.

What has been your experience with no-idling campaigns and state laws?


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