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Riding a school bus has been a mainstay of my school years. Who doesn’t remember climbing up those tall steps through the open accordion door, plopping down on those uncomfortable, brown pleather seats, and listening to the indistinct chatter of their peers, accompanied by the loud hiss of the brakes and low roar when the bus began driving again — the whiff of diesel exhaust in the air?

In Montana, a large state with a small population, high school students spend long hours on school buses to reach their destinations. I would know. My longest trip to play soccer is nearly seven hours in just one direction. But, spending all that time on a school bus is not without health and environmental consequences. Diesel buses emit pollution that concentrates around and inside the bus, getting inhaled by students and bus drivers. When diesel buses idle, as they tend to do in my community and probably yours, they spew out harmful pollution which makes its way into the lungs of all those in close proximity. These diesel emissions have been shown to cause severe health problems, including asthma, bronchitis, and cancer. Diesel engines also emit carbon dioxide, contributing to climate change.

It frightens me to think of how much time my peers and I have spent on diesel school buses throughout our education, completely unaware of what we have been breathing. Pollution levels inside buses can be up to 10 times higher than outside. It’s hard to believe that student-athletes like myself are expected to perform at our peak after breathing in these harmful pollutants for hours on end. But fortunately, safe and healthy alternatives exist.

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Severn Sienkiewicz is 17 years old and lives in Livingston, Montana. She is an intern at Park County Environmental Council, a Moms Clean Air Force Member, and a leader of Green Initiative, the environmental club at her high school.

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