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(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kids get ready to head home as they load onto their school buses at Sunset Ridge Middle school in West Jordan on Monday, March 3, 2014. Out of 21 buses that pulled up, three ran on compressed natural gas. The Jordan District has more CNG buses than any other in the state.
More than one-third of Utah school buses ‘dirty’
Pollution » Davis, Weber, Alpine districts have highest number of old, polluting buses.
First Published Mar 09 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Mar 10 2014 03:13 pm

The oldest school bus in the state sits in a garage near a junior high in scenic Eden. This year, the bus turns 30 — older than some students’ parents.

"It doesn’t get used a whole lot," said Weber School District spokesman Nate Taggart, noting it only traveled 591 miles last year as a spare bus.

At a glance

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HB41 has passed the House and faces only a third and final vote on the Senate floor.

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Still, it’s one tiny part of what many say is a big problem for Utah — an aging fleet of school buses spewing toxic gases into the state’s already-sullied winter air.

About 37 percent of all the state’s school buses were made in 2001 or earlier, according to the state Office of Education, meaning they don’t meet current Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards.

Of those dirty Utah buses, two-thirds are in "nonattainment" areas, places that don’t meet federal air-quality standards.

In all, more than 1,000 of the state’s more than 2,800 school buses are 13 years old or older. According to the EPA, new buses emit 95 percent less pollution than those built before 2007.

The Davis School District is the worst offender with 146 old buses — more than half of its fleet. The Weber district has the next highest number of old buses at 83, followed by Alpine with 82.

Clean-air advocates hope lawmakers pass HB41, which seeks to give schools $20 million in matching grants to buy new cleaner buses.

"The really dirty, old school buses are just a liability for everyone," said Cherise Udell, founder of Utah Moms for Clean Air. "They’re a liability for the state, for the children riding them, for the bus drivers, just because they’re so polluting."

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A health issue » Udell said her two girls rarely ride buses. They live close enough to their Salt Lake City school that they can usually walk or bike.

But when they do board buses for field trips, it makes her nervous, especially when the buses idle.

"It drives me crazy that my kids are sitting there in this cancer-causing cloud of smoke," Udell said.

She and other parents have reason to be concerned, said Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for Healthy Environment.

"There are a number of studies that show that not only are the diesel buses a problem for community-wide air pollution," he said, "but they’re an even bigger problem for the children sitting inside these diesel buses."

Moench said the concentration of diesel exhaust inside school buses may be as much as four to eight times higher than outside the buses. He said exposure to air pollution has been linked with lower intelligence, behavior problems and autism in children.

"Kids who arrive at school having ridden in one of these buses are being forced to endure, for the duration of that bus ride, basically an intense red alert pollution day," he said.

Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, is sponsoring HB41 and calls the number of old buses in use "a huge concern."

Money vs. clean air » Handy’s district includes the Davis School District, the second-largest school district in the state. It has the highest number of old, dirty buses and is in a nonattainment area.

In 2008, Davis bought 23 new buses. But the district just hasn’t been able to buy as many new buses since the recession, said Chris Williams, a Davis spokesman, and the number dropped to about five a year in recent years.

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