ELIZABETH — Fewer kids may be absent from school and a neighborhood may now be healthier thanks to a collaboration between city residents and researchers at Rutgers University.

Their efforts put an end to a decades-long trend of diesel trucks using a residential street in order to avoid tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Fed up with the practice, concerned residents in 2014 contacted Robert Laumbach, director of community outreach for Rutgers Center for Environmental Exposures and Disease, for help.

Laumbach enlisted residents as "citizen-researchers" and found that trucks were crossing intersections on First Street at a rate of 60-120 trucks per hour, many times right along with kids walking to or from school. Researchers also registered a spike in black carbon with each passing truck, indicating diesel exhaust pollution.

“The effects of diesel exhaust on asthma are particularly troubling in Elizabeth, where there is concern about high rates of asthma, especially among children,” Laumbach said.

After Laumbach and community leaders presented their findings to local officials, the City Council in 2017 adopted an ordinance restricting traffic on the road to vehicles under 4 tons, essentially banning tractor-trailers.

A post-ordinance checkup, years after Laumbach was first contacted, recorded an 80 percent reduction in black carbon and ultrafine particle counts, and an 86 percent reduction in truck traffic.

"When people see any trucks, they're more sensitized to it," Laumbach said. "They still want to be vigilant."

Laumbach said their efforts couldn't eliminate all large trucks due to the needs of local businesses.

Also helping the community, Laumbach said, was the decision to eliminate any difference in toll costs between 13 and 13A on the Turnpike. Truck drivers, on their way to or from the Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal, would use First Street in order to escape the higher toll.

Laumbach said researchers are currently working with neighboring communities dealing with a similar issue.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.