Bus Retrofit Project Means Cleaner, Healthier Air
PUEBLO - Thousands of Pueblo County schoolchildren and other bus riders in the area will breathe cleaner, healthier air during their commutes beginning this year, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The department partnered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Sierra Club, Better Pueblo, Pueblo City Schools, Pueblo School District No. 70 and others to retrofit approximately 125 buses with devices that substantially reduce diesel emissions and exposure to toxic pollutants that can accumulate in bus cabins.
"Air sampled inside buses before and after these retrofits confirm that substantially lower emissions result," said Jim Martin, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, during an event at Gateway Park in Pueblo on Tuesday. "That means cleaner, healthier air for children, drivers and other bus riders to breathe as they travel each day."
Diesel emissions are becoming more of a focus of pollution reduction efforts, both locally and nationally.
"EPA has made getting the pollution out of diesel emissions a national priority, and we commend Pueblo's school bus retrofit project as a significant investment in children's health and regional air quality," said Carol Rushin, EPA's Acting Regional Administrator. "Pueblo's clean bus fleet is making going 'back to school' a little bit healthier for 9,000 school kids."
The Pueblo Bus Retrofit Pilot Program traces its origins to an agreement reached between local and statewide environmental groups with Xcel Energy in 2004. Additional funding was secured through a supplemental environmental project that was part of an enforcement settlement between the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Rocky Mountain Steel Mills.
"Xcel Energy is pleased to be part of this project because it is a testament to the fact that utility companies, regulators, and environmental leaders can all work together for a common cause, such as improving air quality," said Fred Arellano, director of Xcel Energy's Comanche Station near Pueblo. "Today we are improving air quality through the bus retrofit project, and next year, when the new unit at Comanche Station is operational, we will more than double the plant's electricity output while reducing air emissions and improving air quality."
The Sierra Club and Better Pueblo also spoke positively of the agreement and partnership that led to the retrofit effort.
"This project and the agreement that got it started are extraordinary testimony to how much ordinary concerned citizens can accomplish, especially when they have responsive corporate officials to work with," said Ross Vincent, vice chair of the Sangre de Cristo Group of the Sierra Club. "Kids and others in Pueblo will be healthier in the future and that's ultimately what environmental protection is all about."
Larry Howe-Kerr of Better Pueblo said: "This is a good thing to do, a right thing to do. It is a privilege and pleasure to come together with all the partners who made this happen. I am thankful for their persistence and good will."
Buses in the fleets of both school districts, as well as several buses used by school children and others that are part of Pueblo's municipal fleet, have been or will be retrofitted. Retrofits include diesel oxidation catalysts to reduce tailpipe emissions that often enter cabins through doors when students board and exit buses; pre-heaters that reduce idling; and crankcase filtration systems that reduce emissions that seep directly into cabins from under hoods.
Diesel exhaust contains many known air toxics, and may aggravate asthma and other respiratory and cardiovascular ailments. Sampling results have shown retrofits to reduce fine particulate emissions; lower elemental carbon, organic carbon and formaldehyde; and lessen concentrations of other toxic pollutants in diesel exhaust by, in some cases, more than half.
Retrofitted buses also save about a gallon of fuel per day through idling time reductions. The combined annual fuel savings for the districts is calculated to be at least $135,000.
"Pueblo City Schools is proud to be a part of this collaborative effort," said Kevin Romero, chief officer of Student Support and Community Services. "This unique partnership will reduce pollution and create a more healthy environment for everyone. These types of partnerships are the future as we serve our community."
The project is modeled after similar retrofit projects completed along Colorado's Front Range managed by the Denver-metropolitan area's Regional Air Quality Council. According to the council, more than 1,000 buses in 18 school districts already have been retrofitted, affecting more than 50,000 Colorado schoolchildren.
Source: Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
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