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Evergreen Woods Residents Documenting Health Impacts of Parkway Pollution

Cars whiz by the Evergreen Woods development with only a thin layer of trees in between the highway and 2,000 residents' homes. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Cars whiz by the Evergreen Woods development with only a thin layer of trees in between the highway and 2,000 residents’ homes. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Residents of the Evergreen Woods condominium complex are now beginning to conduct a door-to-door survey to document what they describe as the adverse health effects of pollution caused by a lack of a barrier between their development and the Garden State Parkway.

“My door-to-door became one big headache,” said Michele Spector, describing how the fumes from the highway affected her during her recent hour-long survey. “From being outside for an hour I had a headache.”

The headaches lingered for two days, Spector said.

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A group of residents from the development have been lobbying the New Jersey Turnpike Authority – thus far, unsuccessfully – for a sound wall to be installed between the Parkway’s southbound lanes and their homes. They say noise and fumes from the highway began pouring into their neighborhood after the authority began a construction project two years ago to widen the roadway so new shoulders could be added. As part of the shoulder-widening project, thousands of trees that previously created a natural barrier between the highway and the development were removed.

In a meeting arranged between the authority and the Evergreen Woods condominium board by Mayor John Ducey, Turnpike officials promised they would plant at least 200 trees this fall. The residents say the trees will have no impact until they grow to 10 to 12 feet tall, which will take another three to five years.

In the mean time, “the sound level will stay the same,” said Stephen Brill, an Evergreen Woods resident.

“The Turnpike Authority is doing what they think is probably necessary just to shut us up,” said Ed Sluka, another resident.

Ducey, who has pleaded the residents’ case to state officials, said earlier this year that state Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox, who serves on the Turnpike Authority, is opposed to sound walls.

The residents say a sound wall will not only cut down on noise pollution, but will block some of the fumes from the highway from enveloping the neighborhood.

The residents most affected by the Parkway project have said that the Evergreen Woods condominium board does not want to spend the money to hire an attorney to fight the authority’s decision not to build a sound wall, but at least one board member – who voted against accepting the state’s tree-plantings as the only solution to the pollution issue – is one of the people who have fallen ill from the increase in fumes.

The effort to collect data on those who have gotten ill over the past two years is now an official project of the condominium’s board.

“They want to document everybody in Evergreen Woods who’s gotten sick,” said Spector. “I keep hearing from other people, ‘two and a half years ago, that’s when the problems in our house started.'”

Spector said many residents, especially children, have developed symptoms of asthma they never experienced before the trees were cut down, and time spent outside can translate into headaches for days afterward.

“Something really has to be done,” Spector said.