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Keeping Kids Healthy with New Idle-Free Policy

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MOUNT VERNON, Iowa - Parents will notice a new initiative when they pick up and drop off their kids when school starts Wednesday within the Mount Vernon Community School District.

School leaders are asking that parents and bus drivers no longer wait with their engines running or idling.

Linn County Public Health conducted an assessment to get a bigger picture of the district. It discovered vehicles emitted an average of 945 pounds of pollution per year. That's after parents and visitors idled 1,075 hours across the Mount Vernon schools.

"Mount Vernon has been the first school to adopt a comprehensive policy that not only includes the school fleet, but it also encourages parents to reduce idling in the school pick up and drop off lines," said Linn County Public Health Department Senior Air Quality Scientist Amy Drahos.

The district is asking parents to initiate a "ten-second rule". If your car is running when you pick up your kids from school, don't leave it running for more than ten seconds. Simply turn it off if you're going to be there a while.

Jeff Merritt doesn't just drive a yellow bus for the district; he's also the head mechanic for the Mount Vernon Community School District's Transportation Department. This school year, he took on yet another job.

Merritt is working with Linn County Public Health to reduce the amount of exhaust fumes students are breathing in.

"I implemented -- talked to them and they gave us all kinds of signs that I have posted around the schools and in the school buses," Merritt said.

"It's a very easy fix," Drahos said.

Drahos said the department started working on this new no-idle initiative in Linn County about a year and a half ago. When buses and cars line up at school, there's a concentrated amount of air pollution.

"We know that children breathe, take twice as many breaths as adults do over a one-minute period," Drahos said. "So, children are constantly breathing in the air pollutants, and it's important to reduce that because air pollution can trigger respiratory illnesses, respiratory distress."

"All the exhaust system from the cars is sucked into the school through the doors and the vents in the school," Merritt said.

As Kristen Rigel prepares her daughter for kindergarten, she believes parents will abide by the district's new rules. School leaders said parents should have received a notice about the changes.

"It's not just for nuisance reasons; it's to benefit our kids," Rigel said.

Linn County Health said it is already working with several other schools who are interested in adopting similar idle-free policies.

Prior to this new initiative, called the Idle Free Linn Project, the health department said the Linn-Mar school district was among the first to start any sort of idling policy. The department said years ago they started turning off the engines of school buses.

Health officials hope as they keep pushing this idea that more school districts, businesses and families will pick up this idle-free idea.

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