Miami-Dade Might Finally Require Property Owners to Tell You About Toxic Contamination

For 60 years, Coconut Grove families were unwittingly exposed to toxic ash from the now-defunct trash incinerator Old Smokey. Since 2008, thousands of Miami-Dade residents have splashed around at the 13-acre Grapeland Water Park, built on top of a former toxic dump site. Last year, tenants at an Overtown apartment building were horrified to learn they had let their children play in dirt they didn't know was contaminated with arsenic and barium.

The common thread to all of these stories? Miami-Dade is one of the most polluted places in the world, but the people who live here often don't know it.

After reading New Times' story about the Overtown soil contamination — and the failure to inform residents about it — Miami-Dade Commissioner Audrey Edmonson is sponsoring an ordinance that would force property owners to post a notice of environmental contamination on polluted sites.

"That gave me the idea," says Edmonson, who represents the district where the apartment building is located. "All these years, and no one has ever done anything about it."

As it stands, there's no requirement for Miami-Dade property owners to give nearby residents a friendly heads-up when environmental contamination is found onsite. Stunningly, they don't even have to tell the county. When New Times contacted the county's Division of Environmental Resources Management (DERM) last year regarding the polluted soil in Overtown, a spokeswoman said the department reached out to residents "based on the magnitude of the direct exposure risk." In other words, instead of trusting people to do their own research on what they believed was safe for their families, DERM makes its own decision about whether the contamination is bad enough to let people know.

If passed as written, Edmonson's ordinance would require notices to be posted on both vacant and occupied properties. Any such signs would have to be at least the size of a standard piece of paper and contain contact info for the county as well as the company doing the cleanup. The law would also mandate that lab results be sent to DERM. Failure to comply with either part of the ordinance would result in a $500 fine.

The county commission's government operations committee passed the ordinance 9-0 in July, but the new provisions have been deferred to a future meeting for further discussion. Edmonson says she deferred the item to give her a chance to speak with the Latin Builders Association, which has taken issue with some of the language in the ordinance.

"I wanted to at least meet with them to hear them out," she says. "I just think that it’s very important that people have full knowledge of what might be next door to them when they're living in a neighborhood, especially if they have children... A property could be contaminated, and if you're living right down the street, that puts your child's safety at risk, as well as yours."

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