Archive for Thursday, May 8, 2008

Student’s research no idle observation

May 8, 2008

De Soto High School sophomore Cassandra Ahrens didn't know how bad idling vehicles were until she began her advanced biology project.

Cassandra, with the help of two classmates and her younger brother, observed cars at Starside Elementary School several times between January and April. They noted how many cars were idling and how the running motors related to the outside temperature.

On her last measuring date April 29, Cassandra observed 23 out of 24 cars idling in 62-degree weather. She noted two out of 11 buses idling.

"Usually on warmer temperature days people don't idle as much," she said.

Cassandra came up with the idea for her project after deciding she didn't want to focus on plants like several of her classmates did.

"It seemed too predictable," she said.

So she researched other ideas with her teacher and decided to do something with the environment. She contacted Julie Coon, environmental compliance manager with the Johnson County Environmental Department.

Working with Coon, Cassandra thought it would be a good idea to propose at the March 3 board meeting that idle-free zone signs be placed at each school. Facilities director Denis Johnson said the signs were free through the Mid America Regional Council, but it would cost the district about $1,300 for posts, mount bolts and labor to install them.

The board members turned it down 4-3. Board members Tim Blankenship, Don Clark, Bill Fletcher and Randy Johnson dissented.

"We were really surprised when they turned it down the first time," Cassandra said.

She and Coon thought the board just didn't get enough information and decided to try again at Monday's board meeting.

"Our region has a problem with ground level ozone," Coon said. "It forms when vehicle exhaust reacts with heat and sunlight. We can do small steps to reduce the amount of emissions. These idle free signs are a suggestion. I hope that you consider putting up these signs. They are popular in other school districts."

According to the Johnson County Environmental Department, idling for more than 30 seconds uses more fuel than shutting off and restarting a vehicle. If 100 cars each reduce idling for five minutes a day, five days a week for a year, air pollution would decrease by 4,400 pounds of greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, 360 pounds of toxic carbon monoxide and 100 pounds of ozone forming pollutants, including nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds.

In Johnson County, nearly half of all air pollutants that lead to ground level ozone come from vehicle emissions.

Cassandra then presented the board members with her research on idling cars at Starside.

The board did not take any action after the presentation.

"I was expecting them to vote," Cassandra said. "Maybe over the summer I will keep coming back to the meetings."

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