Bus company sued over idling vehicles in Worcester

Durham School Services, the company that provided buses for the Worcester Public Schools, is being sued by a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization.

WORCESTER — The company that provided buses for the Worcester Public Schools is being sued by a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization.

The suit filed last month in U.S. District Court by the Conservation Law Foundation claimed Durham School Services violated the federal Clean Air Act by letting buses idle for more than the legally allowed limit of five minutes while parked in a city bus lot.

The idling spewed harmful chemicals into the air, compromising the health of Worcester residents who live and work near the lot, the lawsuit claims.

National Express LLC, Durham’s parent company, declined comment, citing pending litigation.

Worcester Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Brian Allen issued a statement: "This is a matter between Durham School Services and the Conservation Law Foundation. The Worcester Public Schools does not have any connection to the case or any comment at this time."

Superintendent Rachel Monárrez was hired in April by the school committee, eight months after it voted to end its contract with Durham and take the district's bus service in-house.

Idling recorded

Buses parked and maintained at 42A Harlow St. idled from six to 57 minutes, based on a foundation inspector that observed the lot six times between September 2019 to June 2022.

Diesel exhaust from the idling buses include fine particles, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, benzene, formaldehyde and 40 other kinds of toxic contaminants. Respiratory illnesses, including asthma, are linked to the toxins, the suit claims.

More than 70,000 people live within two miles of the bus lot, located in an state Environmental Justice area where more than 80% of residents belong to a minority group, and where the median household income is roughly $48,000 annually, according to the 2020 Environmental Justice Populations map.

Alleged harmful connection

The lawsuit makes a connection between the toxins released from idling buses and elevated asthma rates in Worcester.

School-age children in the city had a 14.8% asthma rate in the 2016-17 academic year, according to the state Department of Public Health. That compares to a national rate of 7.2% cited by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition, the suit claims that fine particles compromise lung health and are linked to an increased risk of illness and death from COVID-19.

Besides Worcester, the suit makes similar claims against Durham school buses parked in a lot in Holyoke.

Guilty verdict sought

The Conservation Law Foundation wants Durham and its holding companies declared guilty of violating the law, stopped permanently from idling buses for more than five minutes, and for civil penalties of more than $109,000 for each day of the alleged violation.

Also, the foundation wants the court to order the defendants to take appropriate actions to remedy harm caused by their alleged noncompliance with the Clean Air Act, to pay the foundation’s legal fees, and to award any additional relief as the court deems appropriate.

The Worcester schools' in-house bus fleet started this academic year, and this month the district received the last of the 100 full-size buses it ordered.

The remaining 65 are all midsize models, and are expected to start arriving in February.

Contact Henry Schwan at henry.schwan@telegram.com. Follow him on Twitter @henrytelegram

This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Lawsuit filed against former supplier of Worcester school buses