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Breathing Easy

Sick of inhaling smoggy diesel fumes while awaiting bus rides, Minnesota students banded together this year to help get a "no idling" law passed in their state.

Now, students who teamed with the Sierra Club's Minnesota Air Toxics Campaign are taking their efforts a step further. They're working to make sure schools and bus drivers are aware of the law and the reasons for it—and comply with its provisions.

"I think pretty much everyone has had the experience of being behind a big bus that runs on diesel and seeing all that black smoke and saying, 'Gross,'" said Amir Nadav, a senior at St. Paul's Highland Park High School.

Mr. Nadav was one of the students who led efforts to get the bill through the legislature in May. He and other students collected more than 1,500 signatures on a petition and organized a rally at the state Capitol in support of their effort.

The law, which took effect in July, requires buses to minimize idling, especially in areas where students might be exposed to fumes. Under the law, schools could be required to redesign parking and pickup areas, or to move air-intake vents so that diesel exhaust is not being sucked into classrooms.

Schools are required to review these issues. There is no penalty for noncompliance, however.

Paula G. Maccabee, the program coordinator for the Minnesota Air Toxics Campaign, said bus and car fumes are particularly dangerous for students. Studies have found that pollution from diesel exhaust is five to 15 times worse inside a school bus than it is outside in nearby areas, she said, and that the exhaust increases risks of cancer and can aggravate asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis.

Over the summer, students researched grants that might help schools pay for restriping parking lots or moving air vents. They gave presentations and helped craft articles for newsletters. They also designed informational brochures and colorful posters with slogans like "Turn off your engine. Kids breathe here."

The brochure and posters will be included with a packet of information to be sent to district superintendents, along with a formal letter from the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance.

Mr. Nadav said the experience of watching an idea become a law and then be implemented has changed his way of thinking about himself and his future. "I'm a shy person," he said. "I honestly could never have seen myself doing any of this."

—Michelle R. Davis

Vol. 22, Issue 10, Page 19

Published in Print: November 6, 2002, as State Journal

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