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Your Environment. Your Health.

Impact of Traffic-Related Particles on Asthma for Students in an Urban School District

Partnerships for Environmental Public Health (PEPH)

Academic Partner:

University of Cincinnati
Patrick H. Ryan, Ph.D.

Community Partners:

Cincinnati Public Schools
Cincinnati Health Department

image of school bus

Project Description

Although anti-idling campaigns have been conducted around the country, most of them did not assess the effect of idling on traffic-related particulate matter levels. Researchers at the University of Cincinnati and two community organizations — Cincinnati Public Schools and the Cincinnati Health Department — collaborated to gather this needed data about the risks and health effects, and to develop strategies to reduce the exposure.

The research aimed to uncover and reduce the impact of air pollution from idling school buses and other vehicles on childhood asthma. The prevalence of asthma in children has more than doubled in the past two decades, with urban populations experiencing the highest increase in disease prevalence and severity. Schools, parents, and public health officials are concerned that schoolchildren are exposed to high levels of traffic-related particulate matter, including diesel exhaust particulates, and that this exposure may aggravate asthma symptoms in susceptible children. These exposures occur not only as children are transported to and from school, but, because schools are often located in close proximity to major roadways, they may be exposed during the school day to nearby traffic as well as to idling school buses.

The project partners:

  • Conducted indoor, outdoor, and community air sampling to determine if children are exposed to increased levels of traffic-related particulate matter at school compared to levels in their home communities.
  • Developed and implemented an anti-idling campaign that included showing an anti-idling video to 290 school staff.
  • Received signed pledge cards to reduce vehicle idling from 397 bus drivers and 1564 parents.
  • Found a significant increase in awareness of air pollution and idling for bus drivers, parents, and school staff after the campaign.
  • Found that after the campaign, elemental carbon was significantly reduced after accounting for background concentrations at the school with the greatest number of buses. PM2.5 concentrations at this school was also decreased.

The research knowledge and subsequent evaluation not only provided technical data for the scientific community but also will guide future efforts by public health officials, parents, school administrators, and community members on a broad scale to reduce environmental exposures to children while attending school. The partnership communicated health data to families of children with asthma, school administrators, public health officials, as well as bus drivers. The effectiveness of the research partnership and anti-idling campaign was evaluated by assessing the reduction of exposure at schools and the effects on the health of children with asthma.

Selected Publications:

  • Eghbalnia C, Sharkey K, Garland-Porter D, Alam M, Crumpton M, Jones C, Ryan PH. 2013. A community-based participatory research partnership to reduce vehicle idling near public schools. J Environ Health 75(9):14-19. [Abstract]
  • Ryan PH, Reponen T, Simmons M, Yermakov M, Sharkey K, Garland-Porter D, Eghbalnia C, Grinshpun SA. 2013. The impact of an anti-idling campaign on outdoor air quality at four urban schools. Environ Sci Process Impacts 15(11):2030-2037. [Abstract]
  • Hochstetler HA, Yermakov M, Reponen T, Ryan PH, Grinshpun SA. 2011. Aerosol particles generated by diesel-powered school buses at urban schools as a source of children's exposure. Atmos Environ (1994) 45(7):1444-1453. [Abstract]