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August 2010 Issue

Children at school.
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Idling School Buses, Traffic May Affect Children's Health

By Amanda Harper
Published August 2010

Childhood environmental exposures received national attention in 2009 when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it would monitor schools for a variety of toxic chemicals during the school day.

Now UC’s Patrick Ryan, PhD, is leading a community-based research project to examine how idling buses and traffic near schools impact the health of children.

His team hypothesizes that levels of traffic-related particles are significantly elevated on school grounds when compared with ambient community levels due to the proximity of school buses and major roads.

UC environmental health experts have partnered with the Cincinnati Health Department and Cincinnati Public Schools to address environmental links to asthma, a condition that affects up to 24 percent of school-age children in Cincinnati.

"Our goal is to determine the extent of traffic exposure and implement a strategy to reduce children’s exposure to traffic-related particles while attending school,” says Ryan, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the UC College of Medicine.

Previous research has shown that exposure to traffic-related particles during childhood can exacerbate existing asthma as well as result in more visits to the emergency room for asthma-related symptoms, presenting a major public health concern.

"In the Cincinnati community alone, we have shown that more than 38 percent of schools are within 400 meters of major roads,” says Ryan.

"The potential exposure from the schools’ proximity to roads and idling diesel-powered school buses represent a significant source of exposure to potentially harmful ultrafine particles in need of monitoring.”

The UC-led team identified more than 100 children, aged 6 to 12 with asthma, to participate in the study.

Four schools were selected to participate in the study based on a combination of factors, including proximity to a major roadway and number of diesel-powered buses on school premises.

Stage 1 of the study will include indoor and outdoor air sampling at the child’s school and community of residence. Community air sampling will be conducted simultaneously to correlate between school and community-wide exposure.

Stage 2 will involve implementation of an anti-idling campaign aimed at reducing diesel exhaust generated by buses on school grounds. Air sampling will be repeated post-implementation of the anti-idling campaign.

This study is supported by a $928,579 grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Collaborative Community Research Program.­

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