It’s a common early morning sight across the United States: parents chatting with coffee mugs in hand as they wait patiently with their kids at the neighborhood bus stop. Sure enough, the bus rumbles around the corner and we help load our most precious cargo on board for a day of learning. It’s a perfect scene and iconic memory for any parent.
What we don’t remember is the thick brown cloud of diesel exhaust that follows the school bus wherever it goes. Those fumes are not just smoke. They are full of toxins and known carcinogens that harm our children’s health. Diesel exhaust is harmful for everyone, but children are most at risk because they breathe at a faster rate than adults, meaning they breathe in more toxins. And we force our kids to breathe this dirty air twice a day increasing their risk of asthma and other respiratory illness, some of which can be life threatening.
But we can do something about it. In the next few months, Gov. Rick Scott will decide how to spend an expected $166 million coming to Florida. These funds are part of a settlement between Volkswagen and the federal government as a result of the German automaker deliberately cheating diesel car emissions tests in the U.S.
What better way to right a wrong than for Scott to put this money toward clean buses for our kids?
Air pollution is a health risk in many Florida communities. But this problem is especially prevalent in densely populated, low-income areas and communities of color. That’s why Florida Conservation Voters has launched the Clean Buses for Healthy Niños campaign to stand with these communities as they fight for environmental justice.
It is no secret that city planners across the south used federal dollars to target black communities for the construction of massive highways, railroads, power plants, and industrial areas. Local governments then implemented restrictive zoning and density ordinances designed to segregate people of color into the urban core.
This resulted in divided communities and an unfair distribution of toxins. Those who happen to live on the polluted side of the tracks more often get sick from industrial and factory toxins. Outdated diesel buses make this problem exponentially worse, and it’s our kids who pay the price. According to a Harvard study, African-Americans are about three times more likely to die from exposure to airborne pollutants than other racial groups in the United States. And children of color are nine times more likely to have asthma than white children.
One of the worst examples of air pollution as a result of environmental injustice is right in the heart of Florida. Griffin Park, located in Orlando, is a predominantly African-American neighborhood completely enclosed by massive highway systems, including I-4 and State Road 408. An assessment by the Department of Health’s Orange County office found that carbon dioxide levels inside homes in the area were more than three times higher than those measured outside, falling into the EPA range of “unhealthy for sensitive groups” ― such as children, the elderly and asthmatics.
The community has little green space to absorb some of the harsh pollutants and despite their best efforts in organizing community meetings and talking to representatives, nothing is being done to fix the problem while residents in the community continue to suffer. Transitioning school buses in this neighborhood and others like it from diesel and to electric would be an immediate and smart way to help. This would be a solid first step for a community that has been forced to bear the burden of increased pollution and systemic segregation.
Scott has the once-in-a-generation opportunity to right some of these wrongs from the past. In Florida, diesel buses expose 2.7 million children to toxins and known carcinogens on a daily basis. Upgrading these buses to run on clean energy will help protect our most vulnerable population from air pollution. Our kids are worth it.
If you’d like to learn more about the Clean Buses for Healthy Niños campaign and find out how you can help, go to: www.fcvedfund.org.