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Board learns about school bus idling

Members of the Two Harbors High School Enviro Club spoke to the Lake Superior School District Board about the costs and dangers of school buses idling for long periods of time. (News-Chronicle file photo by Adelle Whitefoot)

Members of the Two Harbors High School Enviro Club proposed a policy change regarding idling school buses to the Lake Superior School District Board during a meeting Tuesday in Two Harbors.

Enviro Club members Wren Leith, Erika Pelach and Erin Fisher, along with advisors Penny Jeunemann and Katya Gordon, spoke to the board about the dangers to the health of children and the damage to the environment idling school buses can cause when warming up or waiting for students to load or unload at schools.

Club members said first and foremost, Minnesota law adopted in 2002 calls for schools to minimize unnecessary idling for buses in front of schools or to reroute bus parking zones away from air intake vents. In addition, the club researched the issue and found that 25 buses idling for 30 minutes per day over a 180 day school year costs the school nearly $6,000 per year and the number doesn't factor in costs of buses traveling to and from sporting events. School buses aren't known for their stellar fuel efficiency, but idling buses get zero miles per gallon.

What's more, modern diesel engines like the ones used in LSSD need to run for no more than three minutes before driving, according to manufacturer recommendations. Gelling of diesel fuel used to cause problems and require a longer warm up period for diesel engines, but modern blends are more able to withstand extreme temperatures. The group also said their research shows idling an engine can cause twice the wear on internal parts compared to driving at normal highway speeds, leading to increased maintenance costs and shorter engine life.

Most important, however, is the reduction of emissions of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide into the air around schools and the atmosphere in general. Carbon monoxide released into the air can aggravate asthma, heart disease and other ailments as well as causing headaches and leading to chronic bronchitis. Even worse, young people are particularly vulnerable to air pollution since they breathe faster than adults and they inhale more air per pound of body weight, the group said.

"I personally have asthma and it gets worse in the winter time," Pelach said. "When people idle more, it can make it even worse, too. It's harder in the winter time and when people are idling more it can affect it more."

The group also said its research shows a bus idling for an hour burns a third of a gallon of fuel and releases seven pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon emissions like this have been linked to global climate change.

The group also distributed a sample school board policy regarding school bus idling from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The sample policy accounted for things like extreme cold weather and the location of bus parking lots.

The question of school bus idling was referred to the LSSD policy committee and board member Tom Burns invited the Enviro Club to come to the next committee meeting to be available to answer questions and offer their thoughts on a potential policy.

Finally, the school board unanimously approved a trip for the Two Harbors High School Spanish Club to Belize in June 2018. Two Harbors Spanish teacher Gail Harju spoke to the board about the trip, saying it was a Spanish immersion program where students will learn from native speakers to expand their vocabulary and understanding of the language.

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb has been a reporter for the Pine Journal since October 2018. He previously worked as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle from 2015-2018. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. 

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