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Engineer's tests: Newtown residents could use ear protection
Environmental firm official says industry noise exceeds OSHA standards
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Coming Sunday

The Times takes a look at the Newtown community’s struggle to deal with the heavy industries surrounding the Southside neighborhood and city officials’ responsibility of creating a better quality of life for the residents.

The industrial noise in Gainesville’s Newtown community can be so loud that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would require ear protection.

But many of the people subjected to that level of noise are the community’s residents, according to an engineer who tested the noise levels in a neighborhood adjacent to the Blaze Recycling yard.

Jamie Henderson, an engineer with an Atlanta environmental firm, says that when he tested the noise levels on Norwood Street —a residential street that dead-ends at the Blaze Recycling property line — the noise registered as high as 93 decibels.

The noise level is 32 times louder than a typical residential area, Henderson said. Even in industrial areas, OSHA requires workers to wear hearing protection when noise levels register at 85 decibels, he said.

Henderson and his partner, toxicologist Kathryn Wurzel, say the noise and the dust caused by industries surrounding the Newtown community create an unhealthy environment for the nearby residents.

A call to the company seeking comment Thursday was unsuccessful.

Henderson and Wurzel have been working with attorneys from the University of Georgia’s Land Use Clinic and Greenlaw to help the Newtown Florist Club address the issues for nearly a year now. On Wednesday, they presented their research to ministers and community members in the Newtown area as well as city department heads and City Council member Ruth Bruner.

The group asked Gainesville officials to consider amending the city’s code to put a damper on noise and air pollution that they say Newtown residents have to endure because of their industrial neighbors.

"Where (the ordinances stand) is not doing the job, and evidence is what’s going on in the Newtown community," Henderson said.

Ela Orenstein, an attorney for Greenlaw, said the city’s rules on noise, which prohibit noise that can be heard 100 feet from its point of origin and "unreasonably disturbs" residents, are vague and difficult to enforce.

The group has proposed that the city amend its code with measurable, decibel-based noise restrictions that control noise and vibration as well as requiring industries to create a management plan for dust emissions.

The community members and city officials who listened to Henderson and Wurzel’s findings Wednesday at the Newtown Florist Club did not have to take the two at their words.

The pair also brought video.

Ministers from the community shook their heads as they watched a video of a heavy machine dropping vehicles to the ground and crushing them just across the fence from a residence at 857 Norwood St. Henderson and Wurzel said they recorded the work shortly before noon on Oct. 28.

Faye Bush, executive director of the Newtown Florist Club, said she hoped the meetings would raise awareness of the realities of life in the Newtown community and present opportunities for community members and city officials to work together to solve some of the problems caused by the clash of residential and industrial interests.

"We hope to get the community more involved and they’ll be able to look at the video and they would kind of get an idea of what we’re trying to work on and that they might have some input in trying to help us work on this project," Bush said.

But Bush’s ultimate goal is to make Newtown a healthy community where residents can thrive.

"I hope that we will be able to at least get new policies and things put in place that it would protect the people and their well-being," she said.

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