Signs have popped up at buildings in the Center Point-Urbana Community School District and at St. Matthew Elementary School in Cedar Rapids reminding drivers that idling, the act of leaving a car running while it isn’t moving, is not welcome. Linn County Public Health is providing the signage to area schools free of charge.
“We have them up where the entrances are for the parents to see,” said Joe Wolf, principal at St. Matthew. “It’s more of a reminder to them that we are idle free.”
Amy Drahos, senior air quality scientist for Linn County Public Health, said the department introduced Idle Free Linn out to area schools in March 2012.
“This year we were actually able to allocate some staff time to work with the schools on a pretty regular basis,” she said. “We have definitely had some districts kind of step forward and take an active role.”
The Linn-Mar Community School District adopted a no-idling policy for its vehicles in July 2008 and has since also taken part in Idle Free Linn.
Enthusiasm for the initiative accelerated in August, with Wolf notifying families in August about the school’s participation and administrators in the Mount Vernon Community School District doing the same and asking drivers to limit idling to 10 seconds or less. In addition, Mount Vernon’s board approved a first reading of a policy to limit idling for school vehicles as well.
Children, whose lungs are still developing and take more breaths, are more susceptible to air pollution than adults. That’s just one reason why Linn County Public Health reached out to schools for Idle Free Linn.
“We know there are pollutants in gasoline exhaust and diesel exhaust. Those are not healthy for people to breathe in,” Drahos said. “Those exhaust emissions when people idle get very concentrated in a small area … This is such an easy way to reduce air pollution and reduce children’s exposure to harmful air pollutants.”
Drahos also said that children’s vulnerability to vehicle exhaust is increased because of their small stature and relative closeness to the ground, near where exhaust is emitted.
Principal Wolf and his staff have treated Idle Free Linn as more of an information campaign than an effort to punish people who leave their vehicles running.
“It’s just more of reminding people that we live in an environment that’s very fragile so we need to take care of what we have here,” he said. “I don’t go out there and walk around and say, ‘Turn off your car.’”
Drahos is working toward Idle Free Linn’s goal to have at least 75 percent of area school districts adopt idle reduction policies. Administrators in the Cedar Rapids and Springville community school districts have expressed interest, as have those in the Xavier Catholic Schools (of which St. Matthew is part), Drahos said.
Within the next month she and others affiliated with Idle Free Linn will discuss plans to expand the initiative to include local businesses, municipalities – targeting public transportation and city vehicles – and individual community members.
“This is such an easy thing to correct,” Drahos said. “If people just shut their vehicles off when they’re not going anywhere, it not only reduces air pollution, it saves them money for gas.”