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Researchers at Georgia State University found an easy way to improve academic success in a place where school kids spend a lot of time: on and nearby school buses. In the most recently available data, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that more than 25 million students ride school buses every year. Georgia State’s study found that cleaner-running school buses can make a positive difference for them.

Propane cuts 96 percent of emissions compared with clean diesel buses, according to a separate West Virginia University study, and at a cost that’s 30 to 50 percent less to operate per mile than diesel buses. Previous studies proved that diesel exhaust contains toxic particulate matter that contributes to allergies, asthma and lung cancer — especially in children.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Dana Hawkins-Simons reported this about the study:

Daniel Kreisman, an assistant professor of economics at Georgia State University in Atlanta and a co-author of the study, got the idea for the research while looking for a way to investigate the effects of outdoor air pollution on students. When he saw an article on a Georgia program to retrofit school buses with filters to reduce emissions, he says he thought: “A bunch of kids just went from sitting in a big metal box with a tailpipe blowing out noxious fumes to one that pollutes a whole lot less.”

Dr. Kreisman and his co-authors, Wes Austin and Garth Heutel, linked a list of school districts with retrofitted buses to the students’ aggregated health data and standardized-test scores. Based on the results, they estimate that reducing emissions for a school district’s entire fleet could lead to a 7.8% gain in English test scores.

The Georgia State study also found that cleaner buses improved the student respiratory health.

In an article published by Brookings, Dr. Kreisman went on to say, “… the use of diesel fuel and an aging fleet mean these buses are some of the most polluting vehicles on the road. New research is piling up demonstrating the causal link between short- and long-term exposure to air pollution, especially particulate matter, on cognitive functioning and even the risk of dementia. One might begin to wonder about the effects of pollution from school buses on children, who are highly sensitive to dirty air.”