The city of Dania Beach in South Florida’s Broward County touts itself as an award-winning “Blue Wave Beaches” destination with endless opportunities. But for the mostly Black residents of the neighborhood next to the site where the Dania Distribution Centre was built in the early years of the 21st century, life in Dania Beach turned into an ongoing nightmare due to the toxic contaminants dug up by the crew at the construction site.
The vacant lot that developers dug up from 2002-04 was later reported to have been an unpermitted landfill that had received hospital biohazard waste, hotel demolition debris, old refrigerators, fuel tanks, and asbestos shingles among other garbage. Soil samplings from 2000-2001 reportedly revealed heavy metals and petroleum products, as well as high levels of arsenic and benzo-a-pyrene. Local residents and excavation workers started getting sick shortly after the digging began.
“It was like a desert storm over here with the trucks hauling dirt. We had to keep our windows closed and change the air conditioner filters constantly,” longtime resident Lueron Dixon told a local paper in 2005. “A lot of people out here have respiratory problems,” she continued. “It’s just all kinds of weird problems – nosebleeds, coughing up blood, fainting from feeling weak, and rashes.”
Many of the people who lived in the neighborhood are still experiencing serious health problems. A Place of Refuge in God’s Store House was formed to lend spiritual support to these survivors, as they continue their struggle for environmental justice.
Robert Clifford Scott told New Times Broward Palm Beach in 2006 that he received an engineer’s report indicating there was no pollution at the site. Scott’s engineering firm had been hired by site owner/developer Lauris Boulanger to build out the basic infrastructure for the warehouse, so Scott and his crew started digging to excavate tons of trash. The crew reported bloody noses, skin lesions, and respiratory problems, along with one crew member who reportedly went blind from diving in the muck. Scott paid for his own testing, which detected diesel fuel in the trench water.
When the weather was hot and dry, dust from the site blew all around the neighborhood. When South Florida’s famous thunderstorms hit, muddy rivers streamed out of the construction site.
Residents complained to the city, which referred the matter to the Broward County Health Department. County officials claimed that while low levels of contaminants were found in soils, they weren’t enough to be a health hazard. The city attorney contacted the Broward County Environmental Protection Agency, but as in the US EPA Superfund program, the polluter was put in charge of funding soil and groundwater testing.
“That’s the way it’s done,” Broward EPA’s project manager Norman Arizola told the New Times, claiming that having the developer do its own monitoring was normal procedure for obtaining funds for testing and that the County could merely hope that those doing so were reputable businesses.
“The residents were chronically exposed almost daily to the toxic fumes and the toxic dust blowing from the illegal dump into their homes and neighborhoods as well as from the dumptrucks going through their neighborhood with uncovered loads of toxic dust and dirt,” toxicologist Richard Lipsey concluded in a 2008 report.
Yet the Florida Department of Health’s 2010 review concluded “incidental ingestion of soil or breathing dust from the Dania Distribution Center site is not likely to have harmed people’s health.” Residents have taken issue with that conclusion ever since. More than 30 residents joined together in a lawsuit against Boulanger, but they say their attorneys wound up settling for an insignificant amount.
“Many of us continue having serious health issues due to direct exposure in the City of Dania Beach, Florida.That entire area was built on a landfill. It is not just the Dania Distribution Center,” says a member of A Place Of Refuge In God’s Storehouse. “This issue is long term and has changed our lives forever…This is a historically marginalized community with people of color who have been under served for decades.”
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Environmental Justice Concerns
Air Pollution, Fracking/Oil and Gas Development/Pipelines, Groundwater Contamination, Hazardous/Toxic Sites, Lead Contamination, Superfund Sites
Fighting Industrial Contamination
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