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Thursday, September 09, 2021

AG HEALEY SETTLES WITH SCHOOL BUS COMPANY OVER UNNECESSARY IDLING AT NEW BEDFORD SCHOOLS; LAUNCHES PUBLIC INFORMATION CAMPAIGN TO CURB ILLEGAL IDLING

AG HEALEY SETTLES WITH SCHOOL BUS COMPANY OVER UNNECESSARY IDLING AT NEW BEDFORD SCHOOLS; LAUNCHES PUBLIC INFORMATION CAMPAIGN TO CURB ILLEGAL IDLING

AG’s Clean Air Initiative Includes Information for Schools, Online Illegal Idling Reporting Form

 

BOSTON  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 several New Bedford schools. As part of AG Healey’s Clean Air Initiative, the office also launched a new public information campaign about potential health hazards associated with illegal idling of motor vehicles, particularly diesel-powered school buses. 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.

 

“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,” AG 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.”

The AG’s Clean Air Initiative is focused on tackling air pollution that disproportionately impacts environmental justice communities in Massachusetts that are already overburdened with environmental harm. Diesel exhaust can be carcinogenic to humans when inhaled from environmental exposures, 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. The significant 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 disparate impact on communities of color, long-term exposure to particulate matter has been linked to an increase in COVID-19 deaths.

 

Settlement with Tremblay’s Bus Company

The proposed consent decree, filed with the United District Court for the District of Massachusetts and pending court approval, settles allegations that Tremblay’s Bus Co., LLC (Tremblay) 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. According to the AG’s complaint, 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.

 

Tremblay 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.

 

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.

 

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Brian Clappier and Deputy Division Chief Turner Smith of the AG’s Environmental Protection Division, with assistance from Jennifer Outman and John Flemmi of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

 

Online Illegal Idling Form and Letter to School Officials

 

To help the public report incidents of potential illegal idling, the AG’s Office has created an online form to alert the office of idling that may warrant further investigation. Parents, school officials, and other residents who observe vehicles idling unnecessarily can anonymously report their observations to help the office identify violators of the Commonwealth’s important anti-idling laws and regulations. 

 

The AG’s Office also sent a letter to school superintendents across the state to inform them about the public health risks and laws limiting school bus idling. The letter notes that diesel exhaust contributes to air pollution that can cause serious respiratory and other illnesses. Diesel exhaust can be especially harmful to children, whose lungs are not yet fully developed.  Massachusetts laws prohibit school bus drivers from idling buses for longer than five minutes and within 100 feet of school grounds, with the exception of very cold or hot weather and where the layout of school grounds necessitates sequential, active loading.

The AG’s Office suggests the following steps for schools to help reduce illegal idling:

 

  • Contact transportation providers and ask them to provide a copy of their anti-idling policies and monitor their compliance with those policies. If they do not have an anti-idling policy, insist that they establish one.
  • Limit students’ outdoor waiting time during drop off and pickup.
  • Provide information to teachers who often assist with school bus drop off and pickup.
  • Provide information to parents about the anti-idling laws and regulations in school newsletters.
  • Ask all bus companies to install dashboard stickers on their fleet of buses and street signage near idling hot-spots. Examples of anti-idling signs are available through the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.  

As part of the Clean Air Initiative, AG Healey in April launched an air quality monitoring project in Springfield in collaboration with the City of Springfield, Yale University, the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts, Bay State Health, ReGreen Springfield, and other community organizations and members. The project includes 80 air quality sensors installed across Springfield – an environmental justice community with one of the highest rates of asthma in the country – and the levels of pollution found by the sensors will be available in real-time on a website in the coming months. The air quality data will allow residents to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves from exposure. 

 

The AG’s Clean Air Initiative is an effort of the Office’s Environmental Protection Division, led by Division Chief Betsy Harper and Deputy Division Chief Turner Smith, to tackle air pollution across the Commonwealth, particularly in environmental justice communities.

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