School Bus Safety: Air Quality

shutterstock_1823395115It's been well-known for generations that pollution within cities is a problem, but it's only in recent years that we've started to realize just how bad the problem is. Pollution doesn't just poison the air and environment, but it can directly harm people as well. This has been dramatically illustrated by many recent studies which show a strong link between pollution and declining academic performance among schoolchildren.

It sounds hyperbolic, but the data is hard to dispute: Student test scores drop dramatically when pollution is high, and there's also evidence of long-term cognitive reduction as well.

So, even before the COVID-19 outbreak, schools had begun looking towards ways of reducing the amount of pollution students had to breathe. Since the outbreak, this has become a more pressing aspect of school bus safety - leading many to embrace the idea of installing filtration systems within school buses.

Should Air Filtration Be a Standard Part of School Bus Safety?

The basic premise here is simple enough: The technology exists to install HEPA-level air filters in school buses, so why not do so? Proper HEPA filters are capable of capturing particles as small as 0.3 microns, which is enough to filter out nearly all air pollutants, as well as most infectious bacteria and viruses.

This would most definitely improve air quality within the bus, by a substantial amount.

Of course, the biggest single issue is cost. Many buses don't have any kind of air conditioning, or will otherwise need substantial upgrades to make use of air filtration systems. Also, there's the matter of filter disposal. Used HEPA filters need to be treated as biohazardous waste, and that would create further ongoing costs. 

Another issue is that the use of these systems would require bus windows to never be opened. This could be an issue on hot days when the bus interior can get quite stuffy. Likewise, their overall effectiveness would be decreased, given how often bus doors open and close - bringing in new polluted air every time.

Plus, many would say this is a band-aid on a bigger problem. Pollution itself should be addressed, rather than simply filtering it out. For example, air pollution is a major driving factor in moves towards cleaner bus engine types. Typically, a diesel-powered bus is itself creating the majority of the pollution the students onboard are breathing. Electric or propane-powered buses would have far less need for filters, as the argument goes.

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It's a complicated question, and as with so many cases where finances and health are in conflict, there are no easy answers. What do you think? Are HEPA air filters in buses a good idea, or would they end up perpetuating bigger problems?

Let's talk about it in the comments!