MASSACHUSETTS: Cracks Down on Idling Diesel School Buses

BOSTON, Massachusetts, September 13, 2021 (ENS) – Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has reached a settlement with a New Bedford-based school bus company over allegations that its drivers excessively idled their buses at New Bedford schools. Massachusetts laws prohibit school bus drivers from idling buses for longer than five minutes and within 100 feet of school grounds.

Under the settlement, the Tremblay Bus Company denied the allegations and refused to admit liability but did agree to pay a penalty of $165,000 to settle the case.

Diesel exhaust can cause cancer in humans when inhaled, and diesel engines are a source of fine particulate matter emissions, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds, and many other toxic compounds, as well as 40 other contaminants that are listed as hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

Inhaling diesel exhaust can cause cancer, aggravated asthma, lung damage, and other serious health problems and is especially harmful to children, whose lungs are not yet fully developed.

Today’s announcement includes a new online tip form for residents to report incidents and a letter to public school officials with information about the state’s anti-idling laws and regulations.

The AG’s office also launched a new public information campaign about potential health hazards associated with illegal idling of motor vehicles, particularly diesel-powered school buses.

“With the new school year starting, we want to make sure the public is aware of the serious dangers posed by emissions from diesel-powered vehicles and give our residents and our schools the tools they need to prevent and report illegal idling,” Healey said.

“Our office, through the work of our Clean Air Initiative, is dedicated to protecting environmental justice communities in Massachusetts from air pollution hazards and will take action against companies that violate our laws. Protecting the health and safety of our residents, especially young children, remains a top priority.”

Tremblay’s Bus Company has provided bus transportation in southeast Massachusetts for more than 40 years and owns and operates more than 250 buses that transport children to and from schools. According to the AG’s complaint, Tremblay operates diesel-powered school buses and other vehicles to transport children to schools – many of which are located in environmental justice communities.

The AG’s Clean Air Initiative tackles air pollution that impacts environmental justice communities in Massachusetts that are already overburdened with environmental harm.

The risks from idling vehicles are particularly prevalent in low-income and immigrant communities and communities of color in Massachusetts. According to AG Healey’s May 2020 brief on the environmental factors that compound COVID-19’s impact on communities of color, long-term exposure to particulate matter has been linked to an increase in COVID-19 deaths.

The settlement, filed with the United District Court for the District of Massachusetts and pending court approval, settles allegations that Tremblay’s Bus Co. violated the Federal Clean Air Act, the Massachusetts Clean Air Act, the Massachusetts Air Regulations, and the School Grounds Idling Regulations when its bus drivers routinely allowed diesel-powered buses to idle unnecessarily for prolonged periods of time – often for more than 20 minutes – on school grounds in densely populated, environmental justice communities.

The AG’s complaint states that the company failed to take necessary precautions to prevent the illegal idling on school grounds, including proper training of its drivers, allowing the buses to emit air pollution that posed a health risk to children on the school grounds.

Under the terms of the settlement, pending court approval, Tremblay will pay a penalty of up to $120,000, including $100,000 that will be split equally between the Friends of Buttonwood Park and the Greater New Bedford Community Health Center.

The Friends of Buttonwood Park will use the funds for tree planting in the Park and trail building by local community youth groups.

The Greater New Bedford Community Health Center will put the funds toward pediatric asthma prevention, including through in-home programs for the hundreds of families with severely asthmatic children in New Bedford.

Tremblay will also pay $45,000 to the AG’s Office for the cost of the investigation and fees.

Under the proposed consent decree, Tremblay also will be required to comply with state and federal clean air laws and regulations by avoiding unnecessary and excessive idling of school buses, to train its staff on anti-idling regulations, to install idling-monitoring devices on buses, to post “no excessive idling” signs at all Tremblay locations and on the dashboards of all company school buses, and to perform regular inspections of its facility.

Featured image: Tremblay school buses lined up waiting for their turn to transport New Bedford, Massachusetts students to and from school. undated (Photo courtesy Tremblay’s Bus Co.)

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