Air district advises parents to cut back on car idling

San Joaquin Valley Air District recommends parents cut back on vehicle air pollution as children are returning to school this fall

VISALIA – With schools opening back up for the fall semester, air officials with the San Joaquin Valley Air District encourage parents in the valley to better acknowledge student health by turning off their car engines at schools when picking up their children and helping cut down on air pollution.

Increased vehicle traffic contributes poor air quality to the formation of ground-level ozone, a colorless, highly irritating gas that forms just over the Earth’s surface. By limiting vehicle idling at schools, any additional air pollution can be reduced and students can get less exposure to vehicle emissions.

“Protecting the health of children is one of our greatest priorities,” Samir Sheikh, the air district’s executive director and air pollution control officer, said. “We urge the public to be mindful of their impact on air quality during this critical back-to-school window and throughout the school year.”

In order to reduce these emissions and protect public health, parents and other residents can incorporate some practices recommended by the air district. 

Parents can coordinate a carpool or rideshare to get children to and from school; drive less by looking for ways to leave a gasoline powered vehicle at home more often by linking car trips; walk children to school when the air quality allows it; keep vehicles running properly, as well-tuned vehicles pollute less; avoid idling in drive-through services by turning off the car engine and going into the building for food, coffee and other services; and not idling in vehicles when dropping children off at schools in the morning or picking them up at the end of the school day.

An additional way to reduce emissions is to drive low or zero-emission vehicles. According to Danny Gonzalez, bilingual air quality education representative with the San Joaquin Air District, the air district offers a cash rebate for individuals, businesses and nonprofits who purchase low or zero emission vehicles. This includes battery electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, plug in hybrid vehicles or even natural gas vehicles. The cash rebate can range from a minimum of $1,000 and maximum of $3,000 and the applicant must have purchased the vehicle within 18 months prior to submitting an application. 

Over the past two decades, the valley has seen significant reductions in summertime ozone pollution levels. However, with the increase in wildfire activity over the past several years, it’s important for parents and schools to take necessary steps to reduce students’ exposure to poor air quality while reducing the creation of additional air pollution. The increase in wildfires over the last several years has resulted in smoke infiltrating the San Joaquin Valley at times during the late summer and fall. Smoke contains particulate matter, harmful components of finely divided solids or liquids, and other pollution that can trigger asthma attacks, aggravate chronic bronchitis and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Those with existing respiratory conditions are especially susceptible to the harmful health effects from this form of pollution.

In order to ensure continued progress and minimize the pollution that comes with school site vehicle idling, the air district has partnered with hundreds of Valley schools through the Healthy Air Living Schools program. This program provides “no idling” signs and other resources to remind parents to turn off their vehicle’s engine when they are picking up or dropping off children at school. Healthy Air Living Schools also includes training for school staff on using the district’s Real-time Air Advisory Network (RAAN), which displays hourly air quality data and corresponding outdoor activity recommendations to protect student health.

 Valley residents can find current, localized air quality data by visiting myRAAN.com, fire.airnow.gov or by downloading the free Valley Air app from the Apple Store or Google Play.

To learn more about the Healthy Air Living Schools program, request a presentation or enrollment into the program, visit www.healthyairliving.com/schools or contact district officials at [email protected].

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