Diesel particulate matter is part of a complex mixture that makes up diesel exhaust. Diesel exhaust is commonly found throughout the environment and is estimated by EPA's National Scale Assessment to contribute to the human health risk in New England. Diesel particulates that are of greatest health concern are fine, and ultra fine particles. Diesel exhaust is emitted from a broad range of diesel engines; on road diesel engines of trucks, buses and cars and off road diesel engines including locomotives, marine vessels and heavy duty equipment. School buses are a significant contributor to the overall emissions.
Diesel exhaust causes health effects from both short and long term chronic exposures. The type and severity of health effects depends upon several factors including the amount of chemical you are exposed to and the length of time exposure. Individuals also react differently to different levels of exposure. There is limited information on exposure to just diesel particulate matter but there is enough evidence to indicate that inhalation exposure to diesel exhaust causes acute and chronic health effects. Acute exposure to diesel exhaust may cause irritation to the eyes, nose, throat and lungs, some neurological effects such as lightheadedness. Acute exposure may also elicit a cough or nausea as well as exacerbate asthma.
A glossary of the other compounds listed on the TTN Air Toxins web site has been compiled in case your students would like to use the site more extensively.
Diesel engines emit high levels of nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter (PM), and in addition, a complex mixture of gases, many of which are known or suspected cancer causing agents. Diesel exhaust from idling school buses can accumulate on and around the bus and pose a health risk, particularly to children. When buses idle in the school yard, the exhaust also can pollute the air inside the school building and pose a health risk to children throughout the day. Numerous scientific studies indicate that exposure to diesel exhaust can cause lung damage, respiratory problems, premature death, and lung cancer. However, there are some simple steps that schools can take to reduce idling time and air pollution.
Recommended actions to reduce diesel pollution:
- Establish the mechanism for continued use ultra low sulfur diesel fuel in the public schools
- Perform mechanical modification to school buses to enable the use of oxidation catalyst and filter retrofits
- Evaluate the emission reductions achieved through the project
- Oversee emissions testing and possible personal monitoring of students in the school district