Ironbound Residents Say EPA Emissions Deal Welcome But Not Nearly Enough

The EPA, PA and terminal operators at Port Newark are working to reduce truck idling to improve air quality.

By David Cruz

Thousands of trucks a day go in and out of the port of Newark, leaving behind a toxic cloud of diesel and other emissions that have been slowly choking the nearby community for generations. This week the EPA, the Port Authority and the operators of the terminals at the port came to an agreement that they hope will decrease the environmental impact of these operations.

Under the agreement, terminal operators will provide anti-idling instructions at gates and install anti-idling signs. They’ll conduct driver education to reduce idling and give the city of Newark $600,000 for green infrastructure projects.

For its part, the Port Authority will provide funding for truck owners to replace their old trucks. The Port Authority will also place anti-idling signs on Port roadways and provide up to $1.5 million for terminal operators to connect to alternative sources of power. It sounds good, but for Isella Ramirez, manager of environmental justice programs with the Ironbound Community Corporation it’s a very small first step.

“Anti-idling signs are not going to stop the children in this corner of Newark from getting asthma,” she said. “What we really need is a truck ban. What we really need is a Port Authority that is actually regulating the industry instead of being in bed with it and continuously putting the weight of industrial pollution on the back of truck drivers and communities like the Ironbound.”

The Ironbound — so named because it’s literally bound by iron from the rail, port and other industrial operations. No matter where you look in this part of the city you can’t avoid it. We joined an informational walking tour hosted by the Ironbound Community Corporation along the routes where the residential meets the industrial.

“We are an environmental justice community and we are fighting every day against these types of uses, too, but we’re also being proactive in developing positive programs, attracting positive businesses to the community,” said Drew Curtis, who is director of community development for the Ironbound Community Corporation.

Like AeroFarms, which broke ground on what will be the nation’s largest indoor farm here this month. There’s even an effort to turn an empty lot into an urban farm, to grow food for locals and to counteract the plethora of environmental challenges nearby.

“Once the humidity is high, you can feel it in your lungs,” noted Newarker Lito Miranda. “There’s a big, heavy weight on your lungs. Can you imagine the people with asthma and breathing problems? They’re really at risk in this type of weather and this type of pollution.”

So, while some help from the EPA is welcome, residents here know that when it comes to fighting for environmental justice, they will have to arm themselves — with knowledge.