Children’s Vulnerability & Equity
Children are among the most at risk for health effects from inhalation of diesel exhaust, because they have less-developed respiratory and defense systems. Because of their size, they inhale more air per kilogram of body weight than adults. They also have greater exposure to air pollutants because they spend more time being active outdoors and they are closer to the ground, where vehicle emissions are concentrated. This means that they are particularly vulnerable while travelling in and moving around diesel school buses.
Children exposed to diesel exhaust are more likely to develop asthma in later life, and pulmonary function decrements (including increasing respiratory inflammation) have been demonstrated in asthmatics exposed to diesel exhaust. With the demonstrated susceptibility of children to the health impacts of diesel exhaust, the need to transition away from diesel school buses becomes increasingly urgent.
Yet some children are at even greater risk due to inequities such as poverty that contribute to both susceptibility and exposure. Health Canada’s 2022 report on Population Proximity to Roadways highlighted how this child health issue is also an equity issue: children are exposed to diesel fumes both at home, with lower socio-economic status neighbourhoods often located closer to high traffic roadways and traffic pollution, and at school, with a large portion of schools located near high traffic roadways (48% within 200 metres and 31% within 100 metres).