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Mary K. Wolfe, Noreen C. McDonald, Saravanan Arunachalam, Richard Baldauf, Alejandro Valencia
2020 July 7
Journal of Urban Affairs

Abstract

The role of school location in children’s air pollution exposure and ability to actively commute is a growing policy issue. Well-documented health impacts associated with near-roadway exposures have led school districts to consider school sites in cleaner air quality environments requiring school bus transportation. We analyze children’s traffic-related air pollution exposure across an average Detroit school day to assess whether the benefits of reduced air pollution exposure at cleaner school sites are eroded by the need to transport students by bus or private vehicle. We simulated two school attendance scenarios using modeled hourly pollutant concentrations over the school day to understand how air pollution exposure may vary by school location and commute mode. We found that busing children from a high-traffic neighborhood to a school 19 km away in a low-traffic environment resulted in average daily exposures two to three times higher than children walking to a local school in the high-traffic environment. Health benefits of siting schools away from high-volume roadways may be diminished by pollution exposure during bus commutes. School districts cannot simply select sites with low levels of air pollution, but must carefully analyze tradeoffs between location, transportation, and pollution exposure.