Greg Hunter: School Bus Study

Feb. 7, 2002 -- 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 parentof children who ride school buses. Later today, a new study fromYale University will be released, saying the amount of diesel fumesemitted by most school buses reaches levels that are substantiallyhigher than the government standard. And those fumes are goingdirectly into the air your children breathe. Our consumercorrespondent Greg Hunter has an exclusive look at the study.

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

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

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

WARGO: Well, for short periods of time, we were finding levels that werefive 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 dieselexhaust could do to a child's health, but children with asthma, like13-year-old Erin Paternoster, say they feel it every time they get onthe bus. (OC) Did you ever have a time when you got on the bus feelinggreat 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 Ifeel tightness in my chest or I can feel like I'm starting to wheezeor 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, youknow, we're--we're doing something right now that's harmful to ourchildren, 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'regoing to implement new, cleaner standards for all diesel engines,including school buses. The reason they're implementing cleanerstandards, in part, they say, because diesel exhaust is likely tocause lung cancer, and they say the regulations will prevent morethan 8,000 premature deaths and more than 300,000 asthma attacks. Wargo used two devices, one measured gases like benzine and theother measured ultra-fine particles such as soot. Wargo had 15school children carry these devices throughout their school day.

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

HUNTER:(VO) Wargo also found the level of diesel exhaust for the buses wasespecially high under certain conditions, such as when the buses wereparked 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 studyconducted in a Virginia school district last March that showsbreathing the air on Fairfax County Public Schools' buses poses nohealth risks.

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

HUNTER:(VO) Another industry group, the Diesel Technology Forum, argues thatthe diesel engines now being produced are much cleaner than thediesel engines of the past, and that with proper maintenance, dieselschool buses pose no threat to riders. The costly process ofupgrading a large bus fleet still poses a challenge to cash-strappedpublic 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, andthey're doing it in California and they're doing it in states likeConnecticut, 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 thatdiesel exhaust. Another thing they can do is stagger the times forthe buses to come in, so instead of all of them pulling up, the kidsgetting on, and all of them pulling off, they stagger the times theycome in and it will, you know, help alleviate the problem. He saysit'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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