October 16, 2012 | 10:44am
Last month, the Miami-Dade County Commission quietly passed a terrifying-sounding resolution, voting to ask health officials to travel to the small neighborhood of Broadmoor in Northwest Dade to investigate whether a recycling plant had caused a cancer cluster. Residents there made frightening claims: Eight people had died from cancer in the past year, and a ninth was on the verge of passing. Several more were suffering from respiratory problems, including asthma. Something had contaminated their neighborhood.
Commissioners, health officials, and news reporters all went to Broadmoor to try to get answers. Everyone suspected King Metal -- the recycling plant -- was the source of the sickness. But in talking to residents and digging through public records, I found that the neighborhood has a long and troubled history of chemical corruption well beyond one shady factory.
In my reporting, I found at least five households in the neighborhood where someone died from cancer in the past year. I also uncovered hundreds of pages of public records, suggesting that nearly every company within a half-mile of the neighborhood had some kind of issue with contamination or pollution. I also found that King Metal, the recycling plant that some residents believe to be linked to the cancer, is run by a man who has been in trouble before for endangering the environment.
Since the 1950s, the low-income neighborhoods of Northwest Miami-Dade have been home to the kind of companies that no one would want in their back yard. Recycling plants, steel mills, plastics makers, and chemical storage centers all gathered in these areas to do their dirty business.
For years, these facilities have been contaminating soil and groundwater in the county. One piece of land, at NW 76th Street and NW 36th Avenue, even landed on the EPA's Superfund sites list in the 1980s.
All of that news came as a shock to Broadmoor residents, who had no idea the extent of the pollution in their neighborhood. What's worse, they feel that no one is looking out for them.
The county's health investigation is ongoing, and no information has been released to the public or to the residents. There's little trust in DERM or the Department of Planning and Zoning, both of which allowed King Metal, along with several other plants, to operate in the neighborhood. Then there's King Metal's owner, Pedro Amador, who decided he would rather scream at me than answer questions about his company and his sordid legal history.
The question of what's behind the Broadmoor cancer cluster is far from being answered. No one knows how long the investigation will last, and the possible effect of years' worth of pollution is similarly unknown.
But what's clear is there are likely other neighborhoods in Dade near other industrial areas that have their own contamination and illness.