Cover Story: Clearing the air

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Union County Public Schools together received a more than half a million dolllar federal grant to clean up their buses.  That means they'll be able to make changes, so that their buses will burn cleaner fuel.

Its goal to help the kids, but also to clean up the overall environment.

This year, Charlotte was declared the 8th smogiest city in the United States, by the American Lung Association.  We were 13th last year.

When you think about air pollution, your child's school bus probably doesn't come to mind.  But it should.

That tailpipe exhaust from that diesel bus often dirties the air inside the school bus, studies show sometimes in quantities far higher than are found outside the bus.

And diesel exhaust contains carcinogens as well as tiny particles that can cause or worsen breathing problems.

" help reduce diesel pollution in our region."

It's why school officials from CMS and Union county today were cheering receiving more than half-a-million dollars from the federal government to retrofit about 86 school buses and fuel trucks.. between the two districts.. to make them pollute less.

"It's up to the schools to set an example," says Dr. Ed Davis, superintendent of Union County Public Schools.  "And I think setting an example and being environmentally responsible is the kind of thing the school systems need to take a leadership role in."

Doctors say young lungs, still developing, take in two gallons of air a minute.. far more than an adult.

And when the windows are closed in the winter, they're breathing in more of that dirty air.

"The only dirt is from the tail pipe itself."

Using a white glove, they showed us a filtered tail pipe.  And one that's not.

What makes the difference is a device in the bus' exhaust system that filters out most of the pollutants.  The grant money goes to purchase and install the pollution control devices.

But it's not just to help the kids.  Exhaust from all motor vehicles contibutes to our smog problem.

A new study published in the medical journal "Hypertension" found pollution from an exhaust pipe can play a bigger role in heart disease than previously thought.. all that sitting in traffic is unhealthy.

"This damage occurs by increasing your blood pressure and actually by increasing imflammation by up to 24 hours after a prolonged exposure in traffic," says cardiologist Dr. Roberta Bogaev.

Rising your risk of heart disease.

Back at school, districts have adopted a no idling policy.  And all new buses purchased in the last two years are cleaner burning.

Phil Rossi with Clean Air Carolina says, "This is a big problem everybody faces. People move here from other cities and find they weren't asmatic in other cities and move here and all of a sudden they're having these symptoms."

School officials tell us asthma one of the number one reasons why kids miss school.

Half of CMS buses now have the cleaner-burning fuel technology, they hope to get to 100-percent in the next 5-to-10 years.

Are buses a major polluter?

Actually smallest part of the diesel pie, they tell us.  Advocates hope by starting with buses they can gain traction to get more people thinking about clean air.  That, and the cargo they carry are most precious.