Par­ents may be do­ing harm to kids by driv­ing them to school

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY MAREK WARSZAWSKI [email protected]­ How bad air af­fects our breath­ing, www.fres­­ion

Why do so many par­ents drive their kids to school? Be­cause they think it’s the safe, re­spon­si­ble thing to do.

Time to re­ex­am­ine that sup­po­si­tion. In re­al­ity, par­ents who drop off and pick up their kids ev­ery day con­trib­ute more than they prob­a­bly re­al­ize to our re­gion’s poor air qual­ity. Which ad­versely af­fects the health of their own kids – and ev­ery­one else’s, too.

Ev­ery year, start­ing in mid-Au­gust and con­tin­u­ing into Septem­ber, of­fi­cials at the San Joaquin Val­ley Air Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Dis­trict see an uptick in ozone, an in­vis­i­ble pol­lu­tant that trig­gers asthma and can cause a litany of breath­ing ail­ments.

What trig­gers this ozone spike? Ac­cord­ing to Jon Klassen, the dis­trict’s di­rec­tor of air qual­ity fore­cast­ing, it’s di­rectly re­lated to the hot, stag­nant weather of late sum­mer and the in­crease in ni­tro­gen ox­ide caused by a surge in morn­ing car trips.

“What hap­pens at this time of year with school start­ing up is there are a lot of NOx (ni­tro­gen ox­ide) emis­sions hap­pen­ing ear­lier in the morn­ing and all at the same time,” Klassen said.

“And since NOx is a pre­cur­sor to ozone, the more NOx there is the more po­ten­tial there is for ozone to be formed. So in­stead of NOx be­ing spread out over the day, so much is hap­pen­ing in the morn­ing that it kick-starts the whole ozone for­ma­tion process and we see even higher lev­els in the af­ter­noon.”

In other words, the long line of cars and SUVs you see idling out­side many schools in the morn­ing cre­ates pol­lu­tion that lingers well into the af­ter­noon. Mak­ing a bad breath­ing sit­u­a­tion even worse.

What’s the solution? Stop, or at least de­crease, this twice-aday rit­ual.

Al­most half the kids driven to school in pri­vate ve­hi­cles live within a mile of cam­pus, ac­cord­ing to the air dis­trict’s Healthy Air Liv­ing Schools pro­gram. Mean­ing if more kids walked, biked, skated or scootered that short dis­tance or sim­ply took the bus, the dent in our air pol­lu­tion would be no­tice­able.

“No ques­tion,” Klassen said. “If enough kids were walk­ing and rid­ing their bikes all those added (ve­hic­u­lar) emis­sions that would’ve oc­curred aren’t hap­pen­ing.”

Safety is an ob­vi­ous rea­son why par­ents drive their kids.

Some schools in parts of Fresno don’t have bike lanes nearby or even side­walks lead­ing to them. Oth­ers are lo­cated on busy streets bustling with car traf­fic.

But that isn’t the case ev­ery­where. The ele­men­tary school two blocks from my house in Clo­vis has bike lanes, cross­walks and ex­tra-wide side­walks sur­round­ing it. The Dry Creek Trail is right across the street.


Yet ev­ery week­day morn­ing and af­ter­noon, 10 months out of the year, a long line of cars spills out of the park­ing lot. Mom and dad wait with en­gines run­ning bliss­fully un­aware of the pol­lu­tion they’re caus­ing.

There’s also this no­tion, built up by a cen­tury of au­to­mo­tive lob­by­ing and mar­ket­ing, that driv­ing is the re­spon­si­ble choice. And so the prac­tice of drop­ping off and pick­ing up your kids from school be­comes The Way Par­ents Are Sup­posed To Do Things.

For those of us liv­ing in one of the na­tion’s dirt­i­est air basins, that logic cre­ates more harm than good.

Air dis­trict spokes­woman Jaime Holt brought up two more fac­tors I hadn’t pre­vi­ously con­sid­ered. First, air pol­lu­tion has a larger ef­fect on kids be­cause the vol­ume of air ab­sorbed by their lungs is pro­por­tion­ally larger than in adults.

Sec­ond, the tailpipes of most cars and trucks sit right at mouth and nose level with young ele­men­tary school kids.

“When enough peo­ple are idling their ve­hi­cles, es­pe­cially out­side a school, it re­ally can have an im­pact on a young child’s health,” Holt said.


To com­bat this, the air dis­trict has a “No Idling” cam­paign de­signed for school zones. De­pend­ing on the type of car you own, idling a ve­hi­cle for more than 1 or 2 min­utes cre­ates more emis­sions than turn­ing off the en­gine and restart­ing it.

Cer­tainly, elec­tric cars and hy­brids that go into elec­tri­cal mode while idling don’t con­trib­ute to the prob­lem. It’s also true that newer gaso­line-pow­ered cars are cleaner than older mod­els.

Prob­lem is, stud­ies show peo­ple in the Val­ley keep their cars longer than in other parts of the state. Mean­ing on av­er­age, our cars pol­lute more.

I can’t tell any­one not to drive their kids to school. That’s a per­sonal choice. But it’s a per­sonal choice that has far-reach­ing im­pli­ca­tions.

At the very least, some­thing to con­sider while you wait at the curb, with en­gine run­ning, for lit­tle Joey or Jenny.

Fresno Bee Staff Photo

Traf­fic backs up on In­ter­na­tional and Wil­low as stu­dents are dropped off at Gran­ite Ridge In­ter­me­di­ate Schools. The long line of cars and SUVs you see idling out­side many schools in the morn­ing cre­ates pol­lu­tion that lingers well into the af­ter­noon.

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