By Michael Hill
Two-year-old Noah’s first speech therapy session. His mother says it’s the result of his congestion distorting his hearing and speech.
When asked if she though it has anything to do with the truck traffic and the emissions in the area from the port she responded “I absolutely attribute it to that. I have three children who are a little bit older and I mean they have all of that.”
Medina says her family’s among the many who’ve suffered for generations in Newark’s Ironbound section from the diesel exhaust of trucks idling on their streets and going to and from the nearby Port of Newark — the busiest port on the East Coast.
Advocates say it’s a big contributor to one in four Newark children suffering from asthma — a rate three times the state average.
“More people in Newark die of pollution-related illnesses than they do of gunshot wounds,” said Dr. Ana Baptista.
Dr. Baptista is a member of the Healthy Ports Coalition and upset at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for reneging on millions of dollars to help replace pre-2007 trucks — the ones emitting 90 percent more diesel particulate than newer trucks meeting updated standards.
Antonio Gochiz’s 1997 truck stays on the road. The program could loan him $20,000 to $30,000. He says a new rig costs $50,000 to $60,000.
Is that affordable at all?
“Not really,” he said.
“We want to see a solution that’s not based on the backs of the workerd,” said Christina Montorio, a port representative of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
In a statement, the Port Authority says “it was clear that sufficient funds were not available to meet the needs of the program as outlined.”
The Ironbound Community Corporation and coalition members condemn the move.
“How could you put a cost on people’s health? You get a billion dollar project, like the raising of the Bayonne Bridge, and you can’t find a couple of million dollars in that project in order to do truck replacement,” asked Executive Director Joseph Della Fave.
“It really smacks of injustice,” Baptista said.
“I think it’s a lack of prioritization and the understanding and willing to put policy and funds where your mouths,” said Dr. Nicky Sheats.
In a statement, “The EPA is disappointed by the Port Authority’s recent decision to eliminate the ban on truck models that are 2006 and older and urges the authority to reconsider.”
The question now for the people, the port and the program is how to move forward.
The Port Authority says while it seeks new funding for truck replacement, “it is not likely that [it] will be releasing another mandatory truck phase out plan in the near future.”
“We need to just wake up as a community, get together and then hold these folks accountable,” said Melissa Miles.
Advocates say in the meantime, the air quality in Ironbound will continue to fail national standards, putting residents’ lives at risk.