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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• Toro's Service Auto Repair at NW 87th Street and 32nd Avenue received multiple citations between 2009 and 2011 for improper storage and disposal of coolant, used absorbent, and wastewater.

Even on King Metal's land, there were pollution issues. Adelman Steel Corporation, which sold its property to King Metal in 2010, was cited in July 2005 for elevated levels of petroleum hydrocarbons in an on-site septic tank. In March 2009, a DERM inspection showed a paint-spraying booth in the facility was not filtered correctly, allowing toxic paint fumes to enter the atmosphere. Later that month, the company was reprimanded for keeping too many drums of hazardous waste on the property and not disposing of them promptly. In November 2009, the county cited Adelman for hazardous-waste storage — containers were leaking or not properly sealed.

Despite all of these violations, not one of these plants or facilities was permanently shut down by DERM or any other agency. Records show fines were relatively light, usually no more than a few thousand dollars. "You don't pass judgment on the specific operator," says DERM's Lee Hefty. "If you have something that's noncompliant, you try to get them compliant."

But even in compliance, health and environmental issues still exist. King Metal wasn't fully enclosed to prevent the spread of dust and soot. Metal dust from shearing, dust from the enamel paint on the scrap metal, and diesel fumes from trucks and forklifts have been linked to asthma, mesothelioma, and lung cancer, according to the American Lung Association.

Metal recycling can be done safely, but it's time-consuming and expensive, says Kyla Bennett, who works for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. The air needs to be constantly and properly ventilated. Wastewater must be handled securely. Walls need to be in place, and anything but pure metal cannot be allowed. "Theoretically, it's possible to do in a clean way," Bennett says. "Would I want to live half a mile away? Absolutely not."

On September 14, as Miami-Dade Commissioners Jordan and Monestime, along with health department and DERM officials, toured King Metal, the place was quiet. But across the street, Dinet McCoy, Vanessa Shelton, and a dozen other Broadmoor residents sat on lawn chairs while fanning themselves in the heat and holding up cardboard signs that read, "Our Petition Will Be Granted." Though their illnesses had prompted the investigation, they weren't allowed inside. So they sat and waited to see what their elected leaders would tell them.

After an hour or so of poking around piles of scrap metal, the commissioners left the plant. The results were disappointing. "They came over and they didn't say what they'd found," McCoy says. "They didn't say anything. All they said was that they would have a meeting with us to discuss whatever they decided."

That meeting between the residents and the county has yet to happen. The investigation into King Metal and the possible cancer cluster continues, but the residents have yet to hear anything from any agency about the next step. Through spokeswoman Rosa Oses-Prealoni, the county health department declined to provide details on the investigation, saying only that it was ongoing.

McCoy and Shelton, with the help of local community activist Renita Holmes, have continued digging into their neighborhood's sordid toxic history. They've accumulated stacks of paper and public records, and regularly meet in McCoy's increasingly cluttered living room to plot the next move. Together, they've founded the Broadmoor Homeowners Association, and there have been talks of news conferences, neighborhood awareness meetings, and even legal action. But so far, they haven't made much progress.

"[The health department is] trying to get the county exempt from culpability, because the county is who gave these people permission to operate in this neighborhood, and they shouldn't have," McCoy says. "They're trying to work their way out of the situation."

No one knows for sure what roots the potential cancer cluster in Broadmoor could have. Nor is it clear why asthma is on the rise or breathing is so difficult. So far, no one has established a link between King Metal and the illnesses, and no explanation has been given.

McCoy and Shelton will continue asking questions and pressuring county officials. They will ask why they were kept in the dark about all the contamination in the area, and why so many companies have been allowed to pollute and poison the environment.

In his home on the cul-de-sac, Walter Frazier simply wants to know whether his neighborhood is safe. He doesn't want to see any more of his neighbors or friends fall ill or die, like his wife Ethel. "I still live here, and I don't plan to leave," he says.

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Jon Tayler
Contact: Jon Tayler

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