This week – May 2-6- is Air Quality Awareness Week!

This year, Arlington is again receiving a grade of F for its air quality from the American Lung Association.

In response to parent concerns about vehicle idling at and around schools and a recent rise in asthma among Arlington County elementary students, ACE circulated a survey in March to gather information about the state of the problem in Arlington Public Schools. Idling refers to running a vehicle’s engine when the vehicle is not in motion. Idling increases the amount of vehicle exhaust in the air; this exhaust contains pollutants that are linked to asthma and other health problems. Idling also wastes fuel and money. ‘ 

ACE received nearly 160 responses from community members. Of those who completed the survey, 74% observed cars idling at least three minutes at a time and over 50% of respondents indicated that idling occurred frequently or on a daily basis. Some respondents indicated seeing cars idle for 20 minutes or more.

Many noted concerns about school bus idling as a problem both during the school day and also in conjunction with after-school sports and activities, including at community centers. APS has a current policy that prohibits its buses for idling for more than 5 minutes at a time. Tour bus idling was also cited as a problem.

With this information in hand, ACE now seeks to work with interested partners to broadly educate the public about the health and environmental risks of vehicle idling and address the issues raised in the survey. Most responses indicated support for signage in drop-off areas. Many respondents emphasized the need for more broad efforts toward anti-idling campaigns that would involve county support as well as support from principals and PTAs.

Several respondents called for increased support for walking and biking to school as well as improved bus routes and noted a need to decrease the number of parents driving children to school.

ACE is working with members of the Environmental Health & Asthma Subcommittee (EHAS) of the APS School Health Advisory Board to identify next steps with long-term goals to develop an education campaign to reduce vehicle idling. Anyone interested in participating in this initiative is invited to’ contact Elenor Hodges for more information: [email protected] or 703-228-6427.