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Colorado Schools Help Improve Air Quality for Kids

Tailpipe on vehicle. Credit: Matthew Paul Argall/Wikimedia Commons.
Tailpipe on vehicle. Credit: Matthew Paul Argall/Wikimedia Commons.
July 28, 2015

DENVER – Results from last school year's Clean Air for Schools: Engines Off! program are in, and kids are breathing easier in Colorado.

The program, now in its seventh year, helps reduce pollution from idling vehicles as parents wait to pick up their children after school. Kim Tyrrell, air quality programs manager with the American Lung Association in Colorado says, on average, participating schools have cut exhaust emissions by 60 percent.

"One minute of idling produces as much carbon monoxide as smoking three packs of cigarettes," she says. "But we don't really give too much thought to sitting and idling our vehicles."

Tyrrell says the program works directly with schools along with a "parent champion." Data is collected on the number of vehicles waiting and how long they're idling, followed by a public awareness and intervention campaign to change behavior.

According to Tyrrell, idle-reduction efforts are particularly important in school zones. She says human lungs continue to develop until children turn 18, and exposure to exhaust can stunt lung growth and contribute to medical disorders, including asthma.

"We know that outdoor air pollution can be a significant trigger," she says. "If you've ever been around a school, a lot of times the places where parents are sitting and idling happens to be right next to a place where children are playing.

Forty Colorado schools in Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder and Mesa counties have taken part in the program so far. The American Lung Association in Colorado manages the program with support from several partners, including the Colorado Department of Transportation and Kaiser Permanente.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO