Md. Cracks Down on Idling School Bus Pollution

The bus and car pool lines at Bay-region schools are polluting the air we breathe, and the state of Maryland just launched a new program to change that.

As school bus drivers and parents wait for students to be let out from school, they usually keep their vehicles running— and that’s pumping toxins into the air. Of course, the first people to breathe in those toxins are school children.

Now the Maryland Departments of the Environment (MDE) and Education are teaming up for the new “Idle Free MD” Program. It aims to reduce school bus and other vehicle emissions in school dropoff and pickup areas.

Studies show that idling for more than 10 seconds uses more fuel, and thus, produces more carbon monoxide, than stopping and restarting an engine. Simply turning off vehicles in the pickup line would cut levels of carbon dioxide, particles, and nitrogen oxide pollution in the air, improving the health of students.

“Children are particularly vulnerable to vehicle exhaust pollution, which can cause cancer, asthma, and other serious illnesses,” says Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles.

There’s a threat to the Bay and its ecosystem, too. Reduced carbon dioxide and nitrogen levels in the atmosphere lead to healthier marine life, according to MDE.

23 schools around the state have already put anti-idling measures into place in their bus loading zones, and the state wants more schools to step forward and adopt the measures, too.

“We are gratified that so many schools and school systems have stepped forward voluntarily to join in this program. We expect them to be the first of many,” says Dr. Karen Salmon, State Superintendent of Schools.

But what about all that starting and stopping? What about keeping the engine warm? According to the state, idling is actually worse for your vehicle’s engine than idling is:

“Idling damages engines and decreases engine life. Modern vehicles  warm up faster by being driven than by idling,.”

Idle Free MD is part of the state’s strategy to reduce vehicle and power plant pollution that could threaten public health and the Chesapeake Bay.

The original members of the program by county are:

Anne Arundel – Folger McKinsey and Mayo elementary schools

Baltimore County – Chatsworth School, Friends School of Baltimore, and Pinewood and Stoneleigh Elementary school

Baltimore City – St. Elizabeth School and Archbishop Spalding High School

Cecil – North East Elementary School and West Nottingham Academy

Frederick – Myersville Elementary School

Harford – Forest Hill Elementary School and Southampton Middle School

Montgomery – Chevy Chase and Cedar Grove elementary schools

Prince George’s – Apple Grove, Capitol Heights, Paint Branch, and Pointer Ridge elementary schools

Wicomico – Fruitland Primary School and Willards Elementary School

 To push for the Idle Free MD program to come to your local school, check out the state’s “toolkit” by clicking here.

-Meg Walburn Viviano