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School buses have been touted as the safest way for kids to get to school, but from an environmental perspective that may not be the case.
The majority of the nation's 450,000 school buses run on diesel fuel and emit particle pollution, toxic substances, carbon monoxide and ozone precursors into the air, especially affecting the health of children at bus stops and on the buses.
"Children spend an average of 1 ½ hours per day riding a school bus," says Jessica Lawent, an air management specialist in Milwaukee.
Recognizing the serious environmental and health implications of diesel exhaust, the Department of Natural Resources was awarded a $1 million federal CMAQ grant (Congestion Mitigation Air Quality) to install emission control devices (retrofits) on about 375 buses in southeast Wisconsin. And recently, the program received even more grant money through savings achieved due to a change in the Vehicle Inspection Maintenance Program. This funding may bring the total number of buses retrofitted to 600.
"Retrofit devices don't decreaese fuel consumption or power, but reduce diesel pollution 20 to 50 percent," Lawent explains. The retrofits used in the program are Diesel Oxidation Catalysts that work like a combination of a muffler and catalytic converter. They take less than two hours to install.
One challenge, though, is that CMAQ grants require a 20 percent match. Lawent says donations totaling about $20,000 have already been received from businesses in the Wisconsin Partners for Clean Air Program and from DNR Air Management staff and others.
Donations are tax-deductible and recognized through certificates of appreciation. Send a tax-deductible donation payable to WDNR-Diesel School Bus Retrofit Project to:
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Getting a grip on the Gas Cap Wrench
In Southeast Wisconsin, the Department of Natural Resources also received a CMAQ grant to provide free Gas Cap Wrenches to motorists with arthritis and weak or injured hands and wrists.
The Gas Cap Wrench helps ensure your gas caps are properly tightened and sealed to save money, conserve gas and reduce air pollution. When fully implemented, the program can save up to one million gallons per year of gasoline that normally evaporates as fumes. A loose or missing gas cap can cause up to 30 gallons of gas to annually evaporate from your tank.
The Gas Cap Wrench has a long handle that provides extra leverage and removes your hand from a tight refueling spot. Its grip sits in the palm of your hand giving you a firm grasp and allowing you to use your arm strength instead of finger strength. To keep gas where it belongs, a gas cap needs to be tightened until it clicks four to five times.
Lawent says about 30,000 wrenches have been given away at senior fairs, health fairs, and promoted through hospitals, clinics, senior organizations and the Wisconsin Partners for Clean Air website.
"The Gas Cap Wrench is a great idea," Lawent says. "Not only is it a great way to reduce air pollution, but it saves gas, money and gives people back their pride when they can tighten their gas cap on their own again."
Natasha Kassulke is the associate editor of Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.