Measuring self-pollution in school buses using a tracer gas technique
A potentially important, but inadequately studied, source of children's exposure to pollutants during school bus commutes is the introduction of a bus's own exhaust into the passenger compartment. We developed and applied a method to determine the amount of a bus's own exhaust penetrating into the cabin in a study of six in-use school buses over a range of routes, roadway types, fuels, and emission control technologies. A tracer gas, SF6, was metered into the bus's exhaust system using a mass flow controller whose flow rate was logged by a data acquisition system and processed with the concurrent real-time pollutant measurement data. At the same time, the SF6 concentration inside the bus was measured using an AeroVironment CTA-1000 continuous analyzer connected to a series of solenoids that switched the sample inlet between the front and rear of the bus cabin. To account for a baseline drift of the CTA-1000, SF6-free air was also drawn through a line located outside at the front of the bus. Although this third sample line generally provided a reference zero value, it also showed that under certain wind conditions (i.e., wind from the rear) when the bus was stopped and was idling, significant amounts of the bus's own exhaust reached this location at the front of the bus. Self-pollution, the percentage of a bus's own exhaust that can be found inside its cabin, was a function of bus type and age, and a strong function of window position (i.e., open or closed). We estimated up to 0.3% of the air inside the cabin was from the bus's own exhaust in older buses, approximately 10 times the percentage observed for newer buses, and 25% of the black carbon concentration variance was explained by the buses’ self-pollution. Analysis of the tracer gas concentrations provided a powerful tool for identifying potentially high-exposure conditions.