Greg Hunter: School Bus Study

The following is an unedited, uncorrected transcript of Greg Hunter's report, which aired on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America on Thursday, Feb. 7.

ABCNEWS' DIANE SAWYER: But now we turn back to this story. Important news for every parent of children who ride school buses. Later today, a new study from Yale University will be released, saying the amount of diesel fumes emitted by most school buses reaches levels that are substantially higher than the government standard. And those fumes are going directly into the air your children breathe. Our consumer correspondent Greg Hunter has an exclusive look at the study.

ABCNEWS' CONSUMER CORRESPONDENT GREG HUNTER:Twenty-four million children in America ride to and from school everyday on a fleet of nearly 600,000 school buses. Most are powered by diesel fuel. And each of those children, on average, spends an estimated 180 hours every year on board one of those buses. Here's the bad news. According to a new Yale University study by Professor John Wargo, some kids are getting high levels of diesel exhaust from their school bus. Using ultra-sensitive monitors, which he placed directly on school children, Wargo took readings of the air quality around the children every minute throughout the entire school day. So you found out exactly what they were breathing in minute to minute?

PROFESSOR JOHN WARGO PHD, RISK ANALYSIS & ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY: Yeah, we mapped it out. Actually, every 10 seconds we took a reading.

HUNTER: (VO) Wargo's readings showed spikes in the measurement of diesel exhaust at certain points of the day. His results differ from those of the EPA because the EPA measures air quality at fixed locations and averages the results over a three-year period. How much higher than the government's acceptable level were you finding routinely?

WARGO: Well, for short periods of time, we were finding levels that were five to 10 times higher than the government standard.

HUNTER: That's a big spike.

WARGO:It was a surprise to me.

HUNTER: There's no telling exactly what exposure to this kind of diesel exhaust could do to a child's health, but children with asthma, like 13-year-old Erin Paternoster, say they feel it every time they get on the bus. (OC) Did you ever have a time when you got on the bus feeling great and got off the bus feeling sick?

ERIN PATERNOSTER, STUDENT WITH ASTHMA: Yeah, many times, I go on the bus and then I come off of it and I feel tightness in my chest or I can feel like I'm starting to wheeze or I feel like I need my inhaler.

HUNTER: (VO) Her father, John, is outraged.

JOHN PATERNOSTER, ERIN'S FATHER: I'm not sure you're going to find a parent who's going to say, you know, we're--we're doing something right now that's harmful to our children, let's wait five more years before we do anything about it. Peop--parents won't stand for that.

HUNTER: (VO) But that's exactly what the EPA is doing. In 2006, they're going to implement new, cleaner standards for all diesel engines, including school buses. The reason they're implementing cleaner standards, in part, they say, because diesel exhaust is likely to cause lung cancer, and they say the regulations will prevent more than 8,000 premature deaths and more than 300,000 asthma attacks. Wargo used two devices, one measured gases like benzine and the other measured ultra-fine particles such as soot. Wargo had 15 school children carry these devices throughout their school day.

WARGO:What we found was in the morning, when they got on the bus, they were exposed to a high intensity of particulates. They tended to diminish during the school day. And then at the end of the day, there was another burst to their exposure.

HUNTER:(VO) Wargo also found the level of diesel exhaust for the buses was especially high under certain conditions, such as when the buses were parked end to end in front of the school, with the engines idling. (OC) I can smell the exhaust on the bus.

WARGO: Yes, absolutely.

HUNTER: So it comes right out … (VO) The school bus industry says there's an earlier study conducted in a Virginia school district last March that shows breathing the air on Fairfax County Public Schools' buses poses no health risks.

CHARLES GAUTHIER, STATE DIRECTORS OF PUPIL TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM: I would--one thing is caution the parents of the country, don't be alarmed at this point. Let's wait and make sure we understand everything before we make decisions that--that affect the health of our children and our own health ourselves.

HUNTER: (VO) Another industry group, the Diesel Technology Forum, argues that the diesel engines now being produced are much cleaner than the diesel engines of the past, and that with proper maintenance, diesel school buses pose no threat to riders. The costly process of upgrading a large bus fleet still poses a challenge to cash-strapped public schools, and even with the cash, it will still take time.

SAWYER:Our consumer correspondent Greg Hunter joins us now. So you're a parent, you see this, you want to do something, what?

HUNTER: One of the best things Dr. Wargo says that schools can do, and they're doing it in California and they're doing it in states like Connecticut, is having a no-idle policy. The school bus pulls up, they cut the engine off and that way they're not kicking out all that diesel exhaust. Another thing they can do is stagger the times for the buses to come in, so instead of all of them pulling up, the kids getting on, and all of them pulling off, they stagger the times they come in and it will, you know, help alleviate the problem. He says it's going to be kind of expensive retrofitting some of these buses, 5, $6,000, and it will take time.

SAWYER: OK, thanks, Greg Hunter.

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