Poisoned: Asthma, Cancer, and Death Prowl a Miami Neighborhood | Feature | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida


Poisoned: Asthma, Cancer, and Death Prowl a Miami Neighborhood

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When regulators toured the plant site at 3400 NW 62nd St. — which Pedro claimed was for metal storage — they found heaps of junk and trash mixed with scrap metal. "It's clear it was solid waste," Robertson says. "There were whole dryers in there. We saw the rear end of a car with the tires still on it in one pile."

Furthermore, Pedro claimed he wasn't processing the scrap metal, despite photo evidence that showed company employees shearing and cutting scrap metal on-site, Robertson says.

What's worse is that, according to the county, he was processing metal in an environmentally protected area, near a well field that provides water to the John E. Preston Water Treatment Plant in Hialeah. Any kind of metal processing or recycling was, by rule, strictly prohibited in that area.

"The actions of the defendants have caused damages to the environment of Miami-Dade County," the lawsuit stated.

Amador and the county settled in October 2010. He paid $50,000, and E.M.R. Export had its permit to operate renewed, provided it met a number of zoning requirements. According to records at the Florida Department of State's Division of Corporations, E.M.R.'s status has been inactive since December 2010.

The Amadors weren't done. In 2010, they purchased an abandoned steel mill in Broadmoor on NW 36th Avenue to use as a new recycling facility. A host of other heavy industries had taken root nearby. Just across NW 36th Avenue were dozens of small houses, as well as two schools: Madison Middle and Broadmoor Elementary. The residents and students were bounded on the west and south by railroads, highways, and manufacturing facilities.

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."

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.

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Jon Tayler
Contact: Jon Tayler

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