Teen's campaign leads to greener city school buses
CAPA freshman Peter Bartholomew testified twice in front of the Pittsburgh school board about requiring bus carriers to reduce diesel emissions.
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Peter Bartholomew, of Squirrel Hill, has a passion for advocacy. Last spring, he put that passion to work in a campaign to reduce pollution generated by school buses.
Peter, 14, who will be a freshman at Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, testified twice in front of the Pittsburgh school board about requiring its bus carriers to reduce diesel emissions.
He addressed the school board in conjunction with the Pittsburgh Healthy School Bus Program. It was organized by the Group Against Smog and Pollution and Clean Water Action, with funding from the Heinz Endowments and the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The campaign educated school districts and bus carriers about grants for installing devices that reduce diesel emissions and ensure cleaner air inside buses.
The effort was successful. Beginning this year, the Pittsburgh Public Schools will initiate new contracts only with companies whose school buses have filters to remove particulates and improved ventilation systems.
One bus company that serves Pittsburgh students moved ahead quickly to make changes. W. L. Roenigk, Inc., based in Sarver, Butler County, has retrofitted 50 buses with diesel particulate filters and closed crankcase ventilations systems.
Peter Bartholomew's testimony before the school board spoke of the effect of school bus pollution on students, especially those who have asthma, as he does.
He told board members that diesel bus emissions are a major source of Pittsburgh's high rate of pollution. According to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, he reported, the number of emergency room visits for asthma is three to four times higher than the national average.
Diesel pollution has been linked to respiratory ailments, heart attacks and cancer, he added. Children, older people and pregnant women are especially vulnerable. Studies have shown that diesel pollution affects learning and that particulates are more prevalent inside buses than outside.
Government agencies offer incentives to encourage school bus owners and school districts to add devices that reduce emissions. School buses manufactured after 2007 are required by law to have the emissions-reducing technology. State and local laws also require school buses to limit the amount of time they spend idling.
Kathy Lawson, of Clean Water Action, said the Clean Air Fund of the Allegheny County Health Department has $485,000 in funding available for bus companies and school districts to retrofit older buses with emissions-control devices.
Ms. Lawson said she is "baffled" that more bus companies and school districts have not asked for the funding. All county districts with bus fleets are eligible for the funds. To date, only Deer Lakes School District has applied.
This fall, Peter Bartholomew will ride a Port Authority Transit bus to school. He has already looked into whether those buses have emissions filters.
"The newer ones do," he reported. "The older ones are still spewing emissions."
He plans to keep working on the issue.
First Published August 20, 2009 12:00 am