Vanessa Shelton knew something was wrong in her neighborhood. All along NW 36th Avenue in Hialeah, people were getting sick. In the last year alone, eight people had died of cancer, and a ninth was expected to pass any day. Asthma had become a major problem. To Shelton and other residents, the most likely explanation for the increase in illness was the squat, one-level factory sitting near the Amtrak station: King Metal Recycling Plant.
Shelton and others took their concerns to the Miami-Dade County Commission, asking them to investigate whether King Metal had any hand in the outbreak of cancer. Now, Commissioners Barbara Jordan and Jean Monestime are co-sponsoring a resolution this week asking the county and state departments of health to see if the small plant is spreading death among its neighbors.
"What they described sounded too scary to be a coincidence," Jordan tells Riptide.
Calls to King Metal seeking comment on the accusations were not returned.
It all started two years ago, when Pedro and Jorge Amador opened King Metal Recycling and Processing Corporation at 5700 NW 32nd Court. Within a year, they moved the business to its current spot at 8600 NW 36th Avenue, in a residential area that also has two schools: Madison Middle School and Broadmoor Elementary School. Since then, residents noticed that black soot was coating houses and streets, and health issues began to spread.
"Asthma attacks have been more frequent since the plant has been open," says longtime resident Dinet McCoy. In that same time, cancer rates shot up. Finally, in July, Shelton and McCoy went to the county commission to ask for help.
King Metal had already been cited, according to Commissioner Joe Martinez, for not covering the factory with walls. But the Amadors, who also own a machine works in the city, should be well known to city politicians.
Jorge Amador is the owner of George's Welding in Medley, the contractor hired by the Miami Marlins to construct the columns holding up the retractable roof at Marlins Park. According to a December 2011 report by CBS 4, Amador's company cut corners, ignored specifications and falsified records in their work. When confronted, Amador reportedly threw a fit, saying that he would build the columns as he wanted. But the welds on those columns failed stress tests, and Amador's company was ordered to go back to the original designs.
McCoy isn't surprised that Amador doesn't want to play by the rules. "The owner doesn't care," she says. "He doesn't have regard for people's health."
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Stricken with asthma, McCoy hopes that the county commission will began an investigation into King Metal and put a stop to the sickness. They will be voting on the resolution on Thursday.
"We want to do whatever it takes to make sure that these people are protected," Jordan says.