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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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.

King Metal is just Broadmoor's most recent example of a hated business. Consider not only the Anaconda/Milgo site, which is located a sparse half-mile from the neighborhood, but also Brenntag Mid-South Inc., a business right next to King Metal. A chemical storage and distribution company based in Kentucky, Brenntag has owned the plot of land at 8700 NW 36th Ave. for the past decade. Before then, the building and land belonged to Burris Chemical, which purchased the property from U.S. Steel in 1983. The warehouse there had been a storage facility for solvents since the '50s. In 1985, Burris learned that the groundwater and soil at its new property was contaminated with a variety of volatile and semivolatile compounds. They included butanone, an industrial solvent used to make plastics and paint remover; ethylbenzene, also used to make plastics; vinyl chloride, one of the chief ingredients in PVC; and chlorotoluene, a solvent and common additive in gasoline.

All of those chemicals, at high enough concentrations, can cause health problems in humans. Vinyl chloride, in particular, is a known carcinogen, according to the EPA.

The chemicals that contaminated the soil and groundwater at the Burris Chemical site did not affect drinking water or spread beyond the plant, DERM officials say. Upon discovering the issue, DERM and Burris immediately began soil removal and groundwater filtration. According to county records, the level of contamination was not high enough to create health problems.

A half-dozen other sites within a mile and a half of King Metal are listed on the EPA's Toxic Release Inventory, a list of facilities that emit chemicals into the air, ground, or water. Miami-Dade County, through DERM, maintains its own list of contaminated sites, 84 of which are within a mile and a half of the plant and the neighborhood next to it.

Most of those chemical issues were discovered in the '80s and early '90s, when the EPA ramped up its efforts to investigate and eliminate potential toxic sites. They are diverse and extensive. Among them:

• MacMillan Oil Company of Florida, which is across the train tracks from King Metal, in 1991 had issues with elevated levels of benzene in the groundwater and in 1993 with lead on the property.

• At Star Chemical Company on NW 75th Street at 25th Avenue, inspections in 1990 and 1991 found levels of at least five chemicals exceeding Dade County groundwater standards, including chlordane, which has been linked to breast, prostate, and brain cancer, as well as leukemia and lymphoma.

• Angler Boat Corporation at NW 74th Street and 37th Avenue was cited March 1, 2007, for using "gel coats [that] exceed the organic hazardous air pollution content limit."

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Jon Tayler
Contact: Jon Tayler

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