No Idling Program helps care for the air

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 27, 2011

By Kathy Chaffin
Center for the Environment
Kannapolis Middle School has reason to celebrate when classes resume in August.
The school’s No Idling Program netted a 96 percent reduction in the time parents idled their vehicles this spring while waiting to pick up their children. “Those are just phenomenal results,” said Shelia Armstrong of the Center for the Environment’s Campaign for Clean Air, which developed the “No Idling Toolkit” the school used for the program.
Data collected by four seventh- graders and tabulated by science teacher Josh Clemmons showed the average idling time of vehicles monitored during the first phase of the program in March and April at just over six minutes (6.24). Following the steps for a media blitz outlined in the toolkit, the students spent two weeks posting no idling signs and distributing three types of literature provided by the Center on the harmful effects of idling on air quality and people with breathing issues.
The students followed the media blitz with three more afternoons of monitoring idling vehicles on May 17, 18 and 19. Their data indicate that on all three days, more than 30 cars were not idling. The average idling time for all cars that were monitored was only 24 seconds.
Clemmons integrated the program into the curriculum as opposed to approaching it as an extra-curricular activity. He noted that the program fits the state curriculum seamlessly, meeting multiple state objectives. In addition, since data analysis is an important part of the mathematics curriculum, he was able to incorporate the program into both the math and science curricula.
Three of the four students involved in the program have problems breathing on high ozone days. That wasn’t the reason they were chosen, said Michele Pitts, academically and intellectually gifted coordinator, who facilitated the program with Clemmons. The four were chosen because they were students of both teachers and happened to be in Pitts’ last class so they could monitor how many parents idled vehicles while waiting to pick up their children.
Still, it made the project very personal for Shayley Elwood and Matthew Abba, who have asthma, and Holli Overcash, whose heart condition makes it difficult for her to breathe on days with high ozone warnings. Holli said she tries to stay inside on those days.
Shayley said it bothers her when people idle because it affects her breathing. “It’s harder for my lungs to get air because of the CO2 in the air and the hot air combined with it,” she said. If drivers could experience the way increased ozone affects people with breathing problems, Shayley said she thinks they would stop idling altogether.
Kannapolis already has a serious air quality issue. The city is included in the Charlotte-Gastonia-Salisbury region, which was ranked 10th in the nation for the worst ozone pollution in the 2011 State of the Air Report released by the American Lung Association.
Mikayla Gandy doesn’t have any breathing problems, but said she is concerned for her friends that do. “I learned that idling from car exhaust can cause serious damage to not only our lungs and our bodies,” she said, “but also our environment. I didn’t know that it really had an effect on them.”
Mikayla said many parents were supportive of their efforts. “They were more open to taking the booklets because of the no idling signs we had out there,” she said. One parent, however, refused to cut off his vehicle even after the media blitz, she noted.
Pitts said she thought the students did a good job with the program. “I wish we would have had more time to work with it,” she said, “but I think what we did accomplish was very effective. We’ve got the promotion of clean air throughout our building, and the kids have become more aware of it.”
As part of the program, Pitts said the Center for the Environment provided CO2 monitors for them to test the emissions on three different vehicles, including her Toyota Prius, a hybrid, and Clemmons’ Jeep. “I think we were all surprised at the drastic difference,” she said. “Of course, one of the reasons I bought the Prius was because of it being a hybrid.
“It was a very telling tale,” she said, “and the kids were all there to observe.” Holli, for example, said she never realized there was that much difference in emissions and that she will consider that when purchasing a vehicle.
Pitts, who said she has been an environmentalist for years, said she would like to see a no idling program held every year. “The education of our children is imperative to changing the mindset,” she said.