About 2,800 of Oregon's diesel school buses were built before 2007, which means they release far more pollution than newer buses.

About 2,800 of Oregon’s diesel school buses were built before 2007, which means they release far more pollution than newer buses.

Mark J. Terrill/AP

The state of Oregon will pay to replace 450 old diesel school buses using some of the $72.9 million dollars it expects to receive through the Volkswagen emissions cheating court settlement.

About 2,800 of Oregon’s diesel school buses were built before 2007, which means they release far more pollution than newer buses. The older buses could be replaced with newer diesel buses, or with alternative vehicles powered by natural gas or electricity.

According to Kevin Downing at the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, that pollution isn’t just going into the air outside the bus.

“There are studies showing pollution levels inside the older diesel school buses can be higher than outside the bus,” Downing said. “In some cases, kids are riding to school in places where the pollution levels inside the bus are unacceptably high.”

Kids face higher health risks from breathing diesel pollution because their lungs are still growing. Studies show putting kids on lower-emission buses reduces asthma and absentee rates at school.

A new law requires Oregon schools to upgrade their older diesel buses by 2025.

About $20 million of the state’s Volkswagen court settlement will go toward helping schools meet that mandate. Oregon officials calculated most of the state’s older diesel buses are already on track to be replaced by 2025, but about 450 of them would still be operating when the new rule kicks in.

Downing said his agency will be working with the state Legislature to decide where the rest of the Volkswagen money should be spent. Some might be spent on identifying which parts of the state have the highest concentrations of diesel exhaust and reducing impacts to disproportionately impacted populations.

The Diesel You Breathe

Hundreds of people die prematurely every year because of diesel exhaust. Enter a location in Oregon or Washington for a look at diesel pollution near you. View the related story.

Published March 23, 2017