They?re tired and cranky. They have a hard time concentrating in class. They can?t join the football team or the band, or take the most difficult classes. Students, parents and teachers told the Gazette-Mail that long bus rides take a toll on children?s health, academics and social lives. Researchers agree. Riding a bus may be hazardous to your child?s health, according to three studies released in the past year: A Yale University study found that diesel bus fumes may be to blame for the dramatic rise in childhood asthma in the United States. Students who ride buses breathe five to 15 times more particulate soot than children playing outside.
A National Resource Defense Council-Coalition for Clean Air report concluded that children who ride buses are exposed to diesel exhaust at levels dozens of times higher than levels considered to be a significant cancer risk under Environmental Protection Agency and federal guidelines. The Union of Concerned Scientists found that schoolchildren in every state were needlessly exposed to toxic air pollutants. Students with the longest rides over many years, and children who sat on buses while they idled, were most at risk.
Every day, thousands of West Virginia students with long rides must wait on idling buses for five to 20 minutes at transfer points. The buses belch diesel exhaust. The kids breathe it in. ?The issue with children is they are particularly vulnerable,? said Patricia Monahan, senior transportation analyst with the Union for Concerned Scientists. ?They have young lungs that are still developing. And they breathe at higher rates than adults. For children on more than an hour, it?s a significant source of pollution for them.? Children with long bus rides also can suffer from social, family and academic problems, studies found.
?Of the 64 households (interviewed), seven had sought professional help for the psychological problems students developed from riding on a school bus each day,? said researcher Michael Fox in a study of Canadian children with long rides. They have less time for family, homework and a social life, Fox said. Students also told Fox they?ve seen drugs, violence and even sex during their bus rides. Parents also complained that their elementary children ride with high school seniors, exposing them to inappropriate behavior. Elementary children ride with high school students in almost every rural West Virginia county. Children with long rides are less likely to get involved in sports, band, and other extracurricular activities, several studies confirm. Students who don?t get involved often have lower grades and are more likely to drop out of school. Students interviewed by the Gazette-Mail said that the long rides hurt their academic performance, but state and national educators have paid scant attention to the issue. ?This field has been taboo for 30 years because the issue was linked with racism and desegregation,? said Marty Strange, policy director for the Rural Schools and Community Trust, an advocacy group for rural schools. West Virginia?s long bus rides aren?t related to desegregation orders. The most recent comprehensive study on academic performance looked at 2,000 bused students in Oklahoma in 1973. They found that children on the bus over an hour scored lower than children with shorter rides. Earlier research is mixed on whether busing hurts students academically. Two other studies from the early 1970s found no difference between bused students and non-bused students. Those studies were criticized for not taking into account the socio-economic background of the students, which the Oklahoma study did. To contact staff writers Eric Eyre and Scott Finn, use e- mail or call 357-4323.