According to public records, the Amadors opened King Metal Recycling & Processing for business in April 2010, only to run into trouble right from the start. That June, Miami-Dade detectives inspected the plant and discovered there was neither a license to operate nor a Florida Department of Revenue registration. There were also no accurate records of business. The Amador brothers, as well as the plant's two other owners, were booked on charges of operating a secondary metal-recycling business without a license and failure to maintain secondary metal-recycling records. But those charges were eventually dismissed, and once the Amadors got their papers in order, the business reopened.

The neighbors weren't as easy to shake. Over the next year, residents living near King Metal called DERM six times about the noise and dust the plant created. One complaint, filed January 27, 2011, stated King Metal was "burning metal at all hours of the day. Smoke escaping from property and effecting [sic] the neighborhood." After each complaint, DERM inspectors visited the plant to see if a pollution problem existed. Each time, they found nothing out of the ordinary.

"When our inspectors are there, they're not seeing plumes from the operation," says Lee Hefty, the assistant director of DERM. "We haven't found them in noncompliance."

Pedro Amador, the owner of King Metal Recycling, opened the plant in Broadmoor in 2010.
Pedro Amador, the owner of King Metal Recycling, opened the plant in Broadmoor in 2010.
An aerial picture (above) shows how close the plant (in red) is to homes.
An aerial picture (above) shows how close the plant (in red) is to homes.

So there didn't seem to be anything linking King Metal to any recent health problems. The company passed all of its monthly DERM inspections and had never been cited for contamination or pollution issues. When the county ordered the plant to shut down, Pedro Amador complied. "It seems to me he learned his lesson the first time," Robertson says.

Residents began to wonder if there had been more to the neighborhood's health problems than just one recycling plant.

The beige-yellow house with the white iron fence on NW 87th Terrace in Broadmoor used to have two occupants: Mary Alice Smith and her son, Todd Evans. A single mother, Mary Alice raised the boy alone in that house. Growing up, Todd remembers being drafted into chores on Saturdays, with mother and son cleaning the house as they listened to soul music. As the years went on, Todd left to live on his own, and Mary Alice stayed in Broadmoor.

Around January of 2011, doctors diagnosed the then-73-year-old Mary Alice with cancer in her uterine lining. Todd didn't know what to expect. His mother, though diabetic, had been healthy and in good shape. Physicians at Doctors Hospital in Coral Gables began chemotherapy as soon as possible and thought they'd beaten the disease. They performed blood tests in November, but the results were months in arriving.

"I knew something was wrong, because they took so long to get back to her," Todd says.

This past January, the doctors delivered the bad news: The cancer had returned. The day after the results arrived, Mary left her house for the hospital. She would never return home. On January 24, she was dead.

Todd first assumed it was just a peril of old age. But Mary Alice Smith wasn't the only Broadmoor resident to get sick or die from cancer. On her cul-de-sac, there have been two other deaths this year: Ethel Frazier and Robert Butler. Todd also knows of two other women on his mother's street who began battling cancer in the past year.

Initially, Todd blamed the local water and food for all the illnesses. He even began drinking only bottled water. Now, like many of Broadmoor's residents, he worries that something in the very air or water of the neighborhood is making people sick.

With Mary Alice gone, Todd is struggling to pay the mortgage on the house in which he grew up. But he doesn't want to give it up. "This home is a legacy. It's a major part of her," he says.

"My mother was a beautiful person," he adds. "She was the center of my universe. I miss having her, and I miss being able to speak to her." He pauses to collect himself. "I can't really think too far into it without crying."

Half a mile from King Metal, where NW 36th Avenue dead-ends at NW 76th Street, there is a small parking lot, some scraggly vegetation, and several construction trailers. Here, near some ramshackle tin-roofed houses and potholed streets, is one of Miami-Dade's 13 Superfund sites. Under the asphalt, the concrete, and the wheels of an occasional pickup truck, a stew of dangerous chemicals once threatened the health of thousands.

From 1957 until 1984, two plants spewed sulfuric acid, chromium, arsenic, and lead into the soil. Anaconda Aluminum and Milgo Electronics, which were headquartered here, poured waste into pits just a few feet above Dade's shallow drinking-water supply until federal regulators finally caught up with them. The companies paid large fines, and for years following the plants' closure, authorities excavated the site. Though people in the neighborhood and perhaps all over Northwest Miami-Dade for years were exposed to the lethal effluent through drinking water, finally, in July 1998, the site was declared safe.

In the lower-income neighborhoods of Miami-Dade, industrial operations have had little reason to worry about their environmental impact. Though car-repair shops, metal-processing facilities, gas stations, and other chemical-related businesses are located not far from homes in some cases, residents haven't complained much over the years.

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Malik El-Amin
Malik El-Amin

Based on what I've read, it sure sounds like it. I feel so bad for these folks. And they're getting the run around from the folks that are supposed to be looking after them.