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EPA Funds Help School Children in Puerto Rico Breathe Easier

Release Date: 03/27/2008
Contact Information: Brenda Reyes (787) 977-5869, reyes.brenda@epa.gov or Elias Rodriguez (212) 637-3664, rodriguez.elias@epa.gov

(San Juan, P.R.) In the next year, students who ride buses around Bayamon, Puerto Rico will be breathing cleaner air, thanks to a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce pollution in diesel-powered school buses. EPA announced that it has awarded nearly $215,000 to the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico to install equipment that will cut pollution on 61 school buses in the Bayamon school region. EPA Regional Administrator Alan J. Steinberg presented the check to Polytechnic University President Ernesto Vasquez Barquet during a ceremony held today at the university. The Alianza Puertorriqueña Guaguas Limpias, Aire Limpio, a Puerto Rico Clean School Bus USA Workgroup, was instrumental in achieving this milestone. Last year, Puerto Rico joined eight northeastern states as a member of the Northeast Diesel Collaborative (NEDC). The collaborative builds upon a decade of success by its partners in reducing diesel emissions through innovative mandates and voluntary measures.

“The Puerto Rico Clean Diesel project announced today is a great example of the progress in improving air quality that can be achieved through collaboration,” said Alan J. Steinberg, EPA Regional Administrator. “Pollution from school buses has health implications for everyone, especially asthmatic children. By developing local capacity and promoting the Clean School Bus program in Puerto Rico, where a higher percentage of kids suffer from asthma than anywhere else in the U.S., we are reducing a key trigger, diesel pollution.”

Clean School Bus USA is a voluntary partnership launched by EPA in 2003. The goal of the program is to reduce children’s exposure to diesel exhaust and the amount of air pollution created by diesel school buses by promoting the reduction of unnecessary bus idling and providing funding to retrofit buses with pollution-reducing devices, such as the type installed on the bus unveiled today, and to replace the oldest buses with new, less-polluting models. Additionally, this grant will help provide community education and the development of a school bus inventory for potential future projects.

The school buses will be retrofitted with devices, called diesel oxidation catalysts, which use a chemical process to break down pollutants in the exhaust stream into less harmful components. These devices reduce fine particles from tailpipe emissions by at least 20%, hydrocarbons by at least 50%; and, carbon monoxide by at least 30%. The catalysts can be installed on older buses and run on regular diesel fuel or biodiesel, which is diesel fuel derived from animal or vegetable sources.

Most school buses and trucks on the road today are powered by large diesel engines that lack the types of pollution controls required on automobiles. While these diesel engines provide good fuel economy, the vast majority of school buses in use in Puerto Rico were built before 2004, generating significant amounts of air pollutants, including fine particles, and releasing to the environment six times more pollution overall than buses built starting in 2004, and as much as 60 times more pollution than buses that meet EPA’s strict 2007 emission standards.

EPA will soon be funding similar projects that are in development. The Erie County Department of Environment and Planning (DEP) will install pollution-reducing diesel oxidation catalysts and crankcase filters on 42 school buses and will install heater systems to reduce idling on 20 additional school buses in three school districts within Erie County, NY. Funding is being provided to the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) to install diesel multi-stage filters and closed crankcase filtration systems on 15 delivery trucks stationed in the Bronx, New York. Yonkers, New York Public Schools will retrofit 10 school buses with diesel particulate filters, 40 school buses with diesel oxidation catalysts, and all 50 buses will also receive close crankcase filtration systems. The childhood asthma rate of Yonkers school children is close to twice the national average at 12.1%, a sharp increase from 9% for the previous year. Anticipated outputs for the Yonkers program will also include specialized no-idling training and education and outreach programs. Similarly innovative clean diesel projects will also be funded in New England through the same grant program, thanks to the growing efforts of the Northeast Diesel Collaborative.

The Northeast Diesel Collaborative promotes regulatory and voluntary efforts to reduce emissions from new and existing diesel engines and encourages voluntary emissions reductions of existing fleets through retrofits, cleaner fuel, replacement, reduced idling and other pollution-cutting measures. Puerto Rico is a member along with Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. Last week, EPA put out a request for proposals for more projects, including projects in Puerto Rico, aimed at reducing diesel emissions. The Agency is making a total of $5.4 million available for new projects in Puerto Rico and the northeast. New proposals are due June 12, 2008.

To learn more about the Clean School Bus USA program and the Northeast Collaborative visit http://www.epa.gov/cleanschoolbus and http://northeastdiesel.org.

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