The Port of Newark-Elizabeth, New Jersey is the busiest on the East Coast. Every day in the neigborhood of Elizabethport, hundreds of diesel trucks pass homes, schools, and community centers. Today, First Street in Elizabeth is no longer a popular route for trucks attempting to bypass tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike.
Residents raised concerns about the health of their children and community. In 2012, Rob Laumbach, M.D., director of the Rutgers University Community Engagement Core (CEC) teamed up with community partners New Jersey Clean Water Action and Brand New Day. Together, they launched a project to monitor truck traffic and collect data.
“It was a small project that was part of our center's larger efforts over the years to build collaborative relationships in our ports-adjacent communities,” Laumbach said.
The Rutgers CEC is sponsored by the university’s Center for Environmental Exposures and Disease (CEED), which is one of 20 NIEHS-funded Environmental Health Sciences (EHS) Core Centers (see sidebar) at universities around the country.
Data leads to action
In one day, organizers counted more than 60 trucks per hour at two locations along walking routes to three neighborhood schools. Air monitoring with real-time portable instruments registered peaks in black carbon and particulate matter as trucks passed.
The team presented the truck count results at a meeting attended by a local councilman. Later, the community presented a report to the City Council. On May 9, 2017, the city enacted an ordinance prohibiting trucks on a key portion of the route they monitored.
“This project demonstrates the importance of community engagement at EHS Core Centers and the impact our centers have in their local communities,” said Claudia Thompson, Ph.D., NIEHS program director for the EHS Core Centers. “These collaborations result in meaningful changes, with the potential for lasting public health benefits.”
Laumbach said the collaboration with the residents of Elizabeth is ongoing. “We are going to go back out and reassess in the coming months when the weather warms up,” said Laumbach. “After that, we may look to publish something based on our experience with this project.”
(John Yewell is a contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)