The Dirt on Dania

Something nasty was in an illegal dumpsite that a developer covered over. Just ask the neighbors.

"The black families were complaining the whole time we were out there, but it never reached our ears," Scott continues. It wasn't until he noticed a story in the Dania Press that he discovered others were affected. He remembers the initial response from Dania Beach officials: "They just figured they were a bunch of whining blacks looking to get something for nothing. But that's not the case. Those people actually suffered."

The predominantly African-American Camp Blanding sits in a neglected industrial corner of the city, where Dania Beach Boulevard dead-ends, between Griffin and Stirling roads. Wallace thinks that's why the city ignored her concerns. She says when she finally received a letter from the city manager, she was hit with four minor code-violation citations. A clear message: "In other words, keep your black mouth shut," she says.

Former Commissioner Chunn blames Dania Beach too. "Nobody from the city went out there and talked to these people, and I think that's a shame. They never spent time with any of these people trying to find out what was going on. They were afraid to come out there — afraid of getting sick."

Work on Dania Beach Boulevard worries residents.
Jeff Stratton
Work on Dania Beach Boulevard worries residents.
Camp Blanding Day Care sits silent and abandoned.
Camp Blanding Day Care sits silent and abandoned.

Phone calls from New Times to Dania Beach Mayor Patricia Flury and City Manager Ivan Pato were referred to City Attorney Tom Ansbro. He recalls citizens contacting their office two years ago.

"Both the city manager and I heard the complaint," Ansbro says. "We took it seriously. We said, 'We understand, and we'll look into it. '" Dania Beach officials couldn't investigate personally, he says, because "we have no one on staff at all that was equipped to deal with that issue."

Dixon ridicules the response. "You can't come out and show concern for the people who vote for you?" she says incredulously.

Ansbro contacted the Broward County Environmental Protection Agency. "They investigate things that make people sick, things that are toxic," he says. "So we turned it over to the people who were best-equipped to deal with it."

Norman Arizola, project manager with Broward's EPA, says his agency was first made aware of health problems in September 2004. "We held a meeting at a church near where all these people lived, by the train tracks," he recalls. By then, he notes, the warehouses were already built. One of the first questions the residents asked was if the warehouse complex owner was going to be fined.

No, they were told. "The staff made the decision that it was not going to serve any purpose," Arizola explains. Instead of penalizing Boulanger, Broward County made the firm pay for soil and groundwater testing at the site.

Scott scoffs at that arrangement. "You're not going get the truth from their own people being paid to test the area."

"That's the way it's done," Arizola counters. "That's where the money has to come from. We just followed the normal procedure." He admits allowing the developer to do its own monitoring isn't without drawbacks but adds: "They're reputable businesses, we hope. "

Arizola acknowledges that the area was, in fact, a dumpsite during the 1970s. Some testing was done there before construction, he says. "But they were sketchy reports, which made it almost impossible to make a determination as to what happened in the past."

Boulanger is now required to submit quarterly reports to the EPA from sampling done on-site. Monitoring has revealed "petroleum-type contamination," Arizola says, though "the levels are so low, probably because everything's been removed." Records show that soil was trucked into that site, "which means a lot of fill went out" after construction began.

Attorney Clyne believes trucks full of contaminated soil passed through the neighborhood. Camp Blanding Day Care, where kids tussled a half-block from the dirt and dust, shut down after last fall's hurricane. But news of children stricken with respiratory ailments spread.

In the meantime, Clyne is ready to call in another law firm to help him out. "It's too big for us," he says. His clients are culled primarily from the first two rows of homes abutting the site, but more are coming forward.

Wallace says she, her 3-year-old granddaughter, and her two sons all have asthma. "None of us were born with it," she adds. Earlier this month, she spent a night at Broward General with her 6-year-old son, who was having a severe attack. Her two daughters have bronchitis.

"All the mucus," she says solemnly. "You can't get past the mucus."

Dixon still lives across the street from the land, and her family is still plagued with problems.

The warehouse complex is crisp, clean, and new, with an eight-foot concrete wall surrounding it. Conduit and light fixtures are still being installed, but tenants are few.

Maurice Sarfati, a manager at We Bronze Inc., wasn't aware of the illnesses and the lawsuit. "That's news to us over here," he said. Open since October, he's noticed nothing out of the ordinary. "Except for the occasional flu and cold, and I don't think it's related."

According to Chunn, the city and the county should have known the area was a long-standing dump and was likely polluted. Arizola says the developer was notified during construction about problems but didn't act on the information.

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