BRADFORD, Vermont (STPNS) -- NEWBURY?As temperatures fall in early winter, one small step in Vermont?s campaign against climate change has quietly been implemented at schools throughout the state. In an effort to help improve air quality, lower greenhouse gas emissions and save funds otherwise used on fuel and engine maintenance, Act 48, which limits school bus engine idling on school premises, was signed into law by Gov. Jim Douglas in May.

Widely hailed as a landmark measure to ward off negative impacts of climate change, the law also takes aim at reducing threats to public health.

Currently, ever year in Vermont, around 1,800 diesel fueled buses carry approximately 75,000 school children over 12.5 million miles. The exhaust from these diesel engines, has negative environmental and health consequences according to advocates. Diesel trucks and buses, emitting carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, arsenic, volatile organic compounds and carbon monoxide (all forms of fine particulate matter or fine PM), make up about two percent of the vehicles traveling in the northeast, yet emit 75% of fine PM.

Exposure to fine PM can increase mortality in children, the elderly, and those living with heart and lung disease. Fine PM disrupts the body?s natural defense against inhaled substances, as well as prematurely ages and damages lung tissue. Carbon monoxide especially weakens the heart and reduces the amount of oxygen blood carries.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 4.8 million American children suffer from asthma and symptoms are aggravated by exhaust from diesel engines. Children are most vulnerable to diesel emissions because of their higher inhalation rates, narrower airways, less mature respiratory systems and their tendency to breathe through their mouths where they are at higher risk for inhaling soot and other fine PM.

Children also are, because of their height, forced to walk past and through engine exhaust as they board buses daily. In addition, engine exhaust resulting from idling buses on school property, is circulated into the school air handling systems allowing exhaust toxins to travel throughout the entire school building. But it doesn?t stop there.

But diesel engines also emit, carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming by trapping Earth?s outgoing energy as heat in the planet?s atmosphere.

Before the law was enacted, buses were allowed to idle limitlessly. But the new law has changed that. Now, while buses are waiting for children to board at school, all engines should be shut off.

Exceptions have been made for defrosting windshields for safety reasons and heating the bus to ensure the safety of staff and passengers.

When it is 25 degrees and above, the bus is allowed to idle five minutes to defrost the windshield, 10-25 degrees an engine may idle 15 minutes, and below 10 degrees , there is no limit. The law also gives school boards the ability to adopt anti-idling guidelines relating to any vehicle on school property.

But the law will not likely dramatically impact area school buses as most drivers have already adopted reducing idling procedures.

According to Stacey Emerson, First Student?s Piermont Branch Contract Manager, ?First Student adopted their anti-idling regulations as far back as 2001. The theme at that time was and still is, ?First Student School Bus Drivers Doing Their Share for Clean Air.??

Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire had also adopted anti-idling policies related to diesel-fueled motor vehicles and aircraft.

?Due to the fact that First Student operates in all these states, these guidelines were enforced companywide when the states started adopting the anti-idling policies,? said Emerson. ?Our policy is specific to eliminating or reducing idle time when buses are lined up at a school, when children face the highest exhaust exposure levels.?

Emerson doesn?t foresee many issues arising from the new anti-idling law as the cold winter months arrive.

?I don?t believe that it has been cold enough for the students to notice at this time,? said Emerson. ?Most buses operated by First Student are parked somewhere other than the school. By the time the bus reaches the first child on route in the morning, the bus is warm.?  

Newbury Elementary School Principal Don Weisburger also believes that the law will pose little disruption for students.  

?Kids are pretty adaptable, and our drivers have been with these kids for many years,? he said. ?They have very positive relationships. Our kids know the drivers will do what is appropriate and needed to be done to provide a safe environment. When we hit those really cold mornings, the buses themselves will let the drivers know what they can and can?t do.?

Emerson also believes that recent onboard innovations might alleviate some of the strain on keeping the buses warm during the cold winter months.

?Buses can be plugged in over the night and placed on timers,? Emerson added. ?When plugged in for 2-3 hours, the engine maintains a temperature of about 100 degrees. The 2008 International buses that we placed in service this year for Oxbow High School have a Webasto Scholastic 45,000 BTU Heating System. It keeps the fluids warm allowing the liquids to flow through the bus at a warm temperature. This should allow the school bus to start up in the morning or afternoon without plugging the bus in. This system is designed to help the environment also.?

Both Weisburger and Emerson are positive that everyone they work with is excited to play their part to help protect each other and the environment.

?Newbury Elementary is very active in environmental issues,? according to Weisburger. ?Our recent initiatives to save electricity raised student awareness for what they can do proactively. This new bus policy fits in nicely with what we do as a school.?

Other Vermont schools have played their part as well. Burlington School District adopted an anti-idling policy in 2004, and was later recognized as a national leader by the Environmental Protection Agency for improving air quality within their schools. Within the first year, one school in the district reported a decrease in missed days of asthmatic students from 31 days to 2 days.

North Country Union High School in Newport, also embraced anti-idling of buses and trucks on school property. They too were recognized by the EPA for excellence in indoor air quality. In 2005, the Warren, VT Elementary School, working with the Quebec-Labrador Foundation, demonstrated an exciting new technique to combat school bus idling. In place of idling to warm up the buses engines, they installed an automatic timer, fuel-fired auxiliary heater. The device greatly reduced fuel consumption, engine wear and tear, bus maintenance, and air pollution.