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Green Machines

County school buses get an earth-friendly upgrade.



School buses, notorious for spitting out smelly diesel exhaust, aren't exactly known as green vehicles.

But around 120 Shelby County school buses are slated to get an eco-friendly facelift by June, thanks to efforts by the Shelby County Health Department.

To date, 70 of those buses have been retrofitted using clean diesel technologies such as closed crankcase ventilation systems and diesel particulate filters designed to reduce emissions and pollution upwards of 95 percent by the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) estimations.

While the health department is focusing on the health of local children, the school bus retrofit project should prove beneficial for the entire community by helping reduce the amount of pollution going into the city's air, water, and soil.

"These diesel retrofit [projects] are going on all around the country," said Larry Smith, supervisor of the Shelby County Health Department. "Diesel vehicles, not just school buses, tend to have a longer service life than your average gas-burning car. So we have a lot of older vehicles that don't have the pollution control equipment still running."

Most diesel vehicles created after 2005 are equipped with clean diesel technology. By replacing the exhaust systems on older buses with technology to filter out most of the particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, and carbon monoxides, the health department is mitigating the amount of noxious fumes students inhale inside and around school buses.

The pollutants have been known to cause a number of lung problems including asthma, bronchitis, non-fatal heart attacks, and several cancers, according to the EPA.

And while there is little data available on the amount of fumes and pollutants that leak into buses without clean diesel technology, the new eco-friendly systems should ensure only fresh air makes it inside the retrofitted buses.

Depending on the engine configuration on each school bus, the EPA estimates the cost of retrofitting to range from $8,000 to $50,000 per bus, though Smith argues that the Shelby County school buses tend to fall on the less expensive side.

"We only have two types of [school buses]," Smith said, "and both are beautiful fits with this technology."

Funding for the project, which was approved by Shelby County government and the EPA, is coming from a past settlement with Cargill Inc. totaling $500,000. Smith said that's enough money to cover the project.

"Every bus that qualifies for retrofitting is going to get it, which is a really great thing about this project. We're not going to miss any [school bus]," Smith said.

The health department is also beginning to work with the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) on a similar project with older city buses, Smith said.

"With budgets being tight, [MATA] is running their buses a bit longer than usual," Smith said, "so we're talking with them about that project."

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