EPA fines bus company for idling too long

School buses sit parked at a Student Transportation of America lot on South Main Street in Naugatuck Tuesday. The company was fined by the EPA for letting the buses idle too long. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — Student Transportation of America, the company that buses students to and from borough schools, has been fined $35,000 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for letting buses idle too long, releasing harmful diesel exhaust into the air in the borough and other municipalities.

The company will also complete clean-air projects worth $131,000, as part of a settlement dated Sept. 27 and announced Monday by the EPA.

According to the agreement, inspectors observed 25 buses idling Nov. 16, 2011 at STA’s borough lot. About 40 buses are housed at the 125 South Main St. depot.

The buses’ engines were running for between five and 30 minutes at staggered times between 5 and 7:30 a.m., before they left to take students to school, according to the report. State law limits idling to three minutes.

Similar situations were reported in Danbury, Higganum, Stamford and Groton, which are also serviced by STA of Connecticut. Buses from Ocean State Transit, an STA subsidiary in Rhode Island, were also observed idling for lengthy periods of time, according to the EPA. Rhode Island’s idling limit is five minutes.

Idling diesel engines pollute the air with chemicals that can cause or exacerbate asthma and other respiratory problems, nausea and sore throats, according to the EPA. Some particles in diesel exhaust are “likely” to cause cancer, according to the agency.

People who live near the bus lots are vulnerable when school buses idle too long, according to the agency. If the buses are idling in the lots, they could be idling outside schools as well, possibly harming children, said EPA spokesman David Deegan.

“You’re talking about a lot of people being exposed,” Deegan said. “Children’s bodies are developing and they’re more sensitive to exposure to chemicals … it’s all about trying to protect kids.”

STA, the third-biggest school transportation provider in North America with 7,500 buses in 16 states, will create a national program to prevent idling, according to the settlement. Drivers, dispatchers and managers will be trained to comply with anti-idling laws. Supervisors will monitor idling in lots, post anti-idling signs where drivers gather and inform school officials of their idling policies.

STA of Connecticut will replace nine older buses with newer ones that are equipped with pollution controls, according to the EPA.

Deegan said air quality around children and residential neighborhoods nationwide would improve as a result of the agreement.

“EPA is very pleased with this settlement,” Deegan said.

Lynette Viviani, a spokeswoman for STA, said the company was complying with the settlement but did not provide any further information or comment beyond a written statement.

“STA has worked closely with the EPA and developed a comprehensive program to promote awareness and educate its drivers on the impact of idling,” Viviani wrote. “Our fleet of school vehicles is one of the youngest in the industry and includes late-model buses with emissions controls serving Connecticut school districts.”

In eliminating excess idling, the EPA calculated that STA would reduce its annual fuel use by 135,000 gallons and keep more than 3 million pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Similar settlements were previously reached with First Student Inc. and Durham School Services, the two biggest school bus operators in North America, according to the EPA.