Residents of Newark track trucks to highlight air pollution
3K+ trucks drove through five intersections on Wednesday, group says
The South Ward Environmental Alliance’s truck count at Evergreen and Frelinghuysen avenues in Newark on Aug. 24, 2022. (Daniella Heminghaus for New Jersey Monitor)
Eight major highways cross into Newark, allowing thousands of trucks to roll through the city daily, idle on roadways, and spew plumes of black smoke into the air.
On most days, the truck traffic is part of the city’s soundtrack. But on Wednesday, community members took particular notice as they conducted their biannual count of just how many trucks drive past their homes.
Volunteers with counters were stationed around the South Ward, just west of Newark Liberty International Airport.
“It’s important because we need to know their impact on our community, on our kids and everyone that lives here,” said Betty Crockett, a 67-year-old Newark native who tapped her clicker each time a truck passed the intersection of Frelinghuysen Avenue and Virginia Street. “What we count today is just the tip of the iceberg in seeing the pollution in this area.”
The South Ward Environmental Alliance organized the truck count Wednesday, and said more than 3,000 garbage trucks, buses, car carriers, and tractor-trailers drove through five intersections scattered around the city.
Trucks head to warehouses and industrial businesses, drive to and from the airport, and crisscross the city delivering packages.
“All that carbon, diesel, black smoke, it’s everywhere in our community and we can’t escape it. It’s affected residents in the ward and their quality of life, and we’re trying to change that,” said Kim Gaddy, director of the alliance. “We want to make sure every resident and ward in the city of Newark has a right to breath clean air.”
Community members counted trucks at five intersections in one-hour shifts to get a sense of how much pollution they bring to Newark. The highest count was at about noon, when 416 trucks crossed the intersection of Meeker and Frelinghuysen avenues.
Newark has been designated as an environmentally overburdened community by the state. Residents here suffering from historical environmental racism are largely working-class immigrants and people of color, plagued with pollutants in the drinking water and flooding from heavy storms.
Gaddy and her three children all have asthma, she said, a leading cause of student absenteeism in Newark, according to a report by the Advocates for Children in New Jersey. Asthma is just one of the direct effects the worsening air quality has had on Gaddy’s family, she said.
Crockett, who has lived in the city’s northern and southern ends, said she hasn’t seen the air quality improve much since she was a child. She feels that more trucks are on the roads now, in part due to Amazon and other online retailers.
“I don’t want my grandson impacted by this. He’s 3 years old, and I want him to have a good, healthy life,” she said. “We need to get the government, companies, corporations to look at us differently.”
Gaddy agreed that there has been a higher volume of trucks in the city, pointing to the increasing number of warehouses for online shipments and the raising of the Bayonne Bridge roadway, which was redesigned to accommodate larger ships passing underneath as they head to local ports.
She said the city and state have been listening to some of their concerns, pointing to more funding for environmental groups and electrifying NJ Transit buses. But she’d like to see more action.
Environmental activists want the state Department of Environmental Protection to move an air quality monitor from Downtown Newark to a highway exit so it catches more of the truck traffic (the agency has 16 air quality monitors scattered around the state tracking air pollutants). Activists have also been fighting an impending power plant planned for the city’s Ironbound section.
“We do see there are some newer trucks, some electric trucks, on the road, but we want to make sure that is happening faster and quicker within overburdened communities,” she said. “Oftentimes, it’s the overburdened communities who get the cleanest buses last, but we’re saying the overburdened communities should get those buses first.”
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