A school bus company that previously operated in Worcester and still operates Holyoke is being sued for allegedly violating the Clean Air Act.
A lawsuit against Illinois-based Durham School Services was filed in federal court last month by the Conservation Law Foundation, which said that it had observed the company’s buses idling for longer than five minutes on 93 occasions since 2019 in the two Massachusetts cities.
“Urban communities suffer disproportionately from toxic, polluted air,” said Heather Govern, director of CLF’s Clean Air and Water program, in a press release. “Holyoke and Worcester are two of the cities most burdened by negative health impacts like asthma because of this type of pollution. Durham School Services must own up to its role in this problem, stop violating anti-idling laws and commit to reducing pollution from its buses.”
In Massachusetts, motor vehicles are prohibited from idling for longer than five minutes except while being serviced, while making or receiving deliveries or when engine power is needed for operations other than moving.
In the lawsuit, CLF says an investigator visited bus lots at 42A Harlow St., Worcester and 103 South St., Holyoke, as well as the William G. Morgan School in Holyoke on various occasions between Sept. 13, 2019 and Sept. 16, 2022. On each visit, the investigator saw buses idling for longer than allowed by law, ranging from six minutes to one instance on April 1, 2021 where a bus in Worcester was idling for 57 minutes.
All three sites are within environmental justice areas designated by the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs due to a high percentage of minority residents and a low median income.
The lawsuit is the eighth filed by CLF in Connecticut and Massachusetts since 2019 over excessive idling. The organization says that exhaust from diesel-fueled vehicles contains fine particulates, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, benzene, formaldehyde and numerous other toxic air contaminants.
CLF also noted in its lawsuit that both Worcester and Holyoke have a higher rate of asthma in school-age children than the rest of the country: Worcester’s rate was 14.8% during the 2016-2017 school year, and Holyoke’s was 19.9%, compared to the national average rate of 7.2%.
The organization is requesting that Durham School Services pay $109,024 per day for each violation, the maximum specified in the Clean Air Act.
In August 2021, the Worcester School Committee voted to end its contract with Durham School Services in 2022. The district spent $16.5 million in federal COVID relief funding on 165 new buses. The first 100 buses, which are full-size school buses, have been delivered, with the remaining 65 mid-size buses expected to arrive beginning in February, the Telegram and Gazette reported.
The new buses used in Worcester run on gasoline, not diesel fuel.
A spokesperson for National Express, the parent company of Durham School Services, declined to comment due to the pending litigation.
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