Friday, November 16, 2007


"The agencies’ warnings and precautionary steps were never distributed to residents."

You really don't have to read anything much beyond the above quote to be aghast once again about the total disregard for the health and safety of the people living in working class American neighborhoods by "elected" officials.

However, I hope you read on and get the latest on one such neighborhood in Fort Lauderdale where people have no doubt gotten sick and died because those officials had better things to do.

Walter ''Mickey'' Hinton is a resident of the Durrs area. He told the Miami Herald a while back he knew when he bought his home that it was built on a former dump site, but he had no idea it was toxic. "I'm very upset about this community and its contamination and they are trying to pacify us by fixing the park for the kids to have a place to play," Hinton said. "But the point they are missing is long-term." Hinton has long argued that the incinerator, which operated from the 1920s to 1953, contaminated far more than just Lincoln Park across the street.

Hinton thinks the old incinerator's pollution has caused cancers in his family and others. He said there is no way to prove that without a comprehensive health study.

"There are people that do have specific cancers and I think, if the study is done well, it would be proven that some of these contaminants have been responsible for some of these cancers," Frank Estock, an environmental consultant, told the Herald back then.

Now, 46 years later, armed with a study from the state health department showing Fort Lauderdale's Durrs neighborhood has unsafe levels of arsenic and other chemicals, Hinton and 115 of his neighbors have filed a lawsuit against the city.

''They wouldn't have bought the homes had they known there were toxins in the yard,'' said Coral Gables attorney Reginald Clyne, who filed a lawsuit in Broward County Court last week.

But no one bothered to tell them.

The majority of people in Durrs, and nearby neighborhoods like Homes Beautiful Park are filled with families who used to be called the working poor and are now considered as the 'workforce' population. They do the jobs that are needed, like collecting garbage, patrolling streets as beat cops, caring for people as nurse's aides, etc, but can't afford housing in the communities where they work.

So they live in Durrs.

Lucky them.

The city operated a garbage incinerator in the neighborhood from the late 1920s to the mid-1950s.

The incinerator spewed ash from burned garbage into the air. Residents who lived there at the time said they saw the ash fall on their yards and automobiles as if it were snow.

But it was the 50s and, of course, it was a simpler time in America. Racism was cool. The Beaver didn't know any Blacks. No Latinos lived in the Nelson's neighborhood and Father Knew Best.

Anyway, back to the story.

Neighborhood residents have complained to the city for some time and asked for help. The city's response was...they'd look into it. Don't worry. Be happy. All is well.

Well, of course, all wasn't well and last August when attorney Reginald Clyne notified Mayor Jim Naugle and Florida’s chief financial officer that he intended to sue the city over the toxic chemicals found in the Durrs neighborhood.

He stated in his letter that he intended to sue the city on behalf of residents Mr. Hinton, who is president of the Durrs Homeowners Association; Hope Sheppard; Frank Sheppard; Gloria Royster; Timothy Knox; Jermaine Strickland and other residents of the Durrs neighborhood.

“Due to the City of Fort Lauderdale’s use of the Lincoln Park Complex as an incinerator site, landfill, and wastewater treatment plant, and waste separation and transfer site, the above named individuals as well as other residents of the Durrs neighborhood, their families, guests and neighbors have had to endure continued exposure to excessive levels of toxins emitted and discharged from the property,’’ Clyne wrote in the letter, addressed to Naugle and Alex Sink, Florida’s chief financial officer.

“As a result of continuous exposure to the toxins and hazardous substances, the above named individuals...have been inflicted with various medical problems and expenses,’’ Clyne continued in the letter. “In addition, due to the City’s actions, these individuals have suffered impaired and decreased property values as a result of contamination on their properties.’’

Clyne went on to say in his letter, “The City was aware of the existence of toxins in the soil but took no steps to correct the problem or notify the individuals exposed to the contamination. Other residents, property owners, and visitors of the Durrs neighborhood have suffered the same or similar injuries and intend to assert their claims in the immediate future.’’

In other words, for years the city knew it was putting peoples lives at risk and for years they said little and did less.

Did I mention that ash from the garbage incinerator was used as fill for the foundations of homes constructed throughout the area?

Residents believe that may be the reason for such high concentrations of toxins in some locations, such as the site of a former elementary school there.

Did I mention that the neighborhood's residents are primarily African-American?

The city sealed off the contaminated soils under Lincoln Park last year but that recent state and federal report mentioned above showed soil samples taken throughout the neighborhood are contaminated with arsenic, lead and dioxins at up to 37 times the levels accepted as safe by the state of Florida.

Fort Lauderdale's Mayor, Jim Naugle, said last spring the city had no intention of sweeping its old dirt under the carpet any more.

Get this. Mayor Naugle before the suit caught everyone's attention announced he had a plan. No slouch His Honor said the short-term solution was to warn people not to go barefoot and not to dig in the dirt unless they were wearing gloves.

Mr. Mayor, I'm thinking you are going to have to do better than that.

The following is from the Broward Times (Florida).

SICKNESS IN THE SOIL: Business joins lawsuit over neighborhood contamination

FORT LAUDERDALE – Gloria Royster says she probably would not have bought the Downbeat Club in the city’s Durrs section if she had known about the toxic pile of ash behind it.

She has taken on additional costs to provide bottled water for patrons, fearing that city tap water at the night club may be tainted.

A health study earlier this year concluded that there are higher than normal levels of cancer-causing substances in the soil around the club, including lead, arsenic and dioxin.

“I want to see that this problem is corrected because I could be out of business,” said Royster, one of 115 people, most of them residents, who have filed a lawsuit against the city for damages stemming from an incinerator in the area that they say caused the problem.

“It’s long overdue,” said Royster, 50, who bought the night club at 623 N.W. 15th Way in 2003.

Coral Gables attorney Reginald J. Clyne and Louise Caro, an environmental attorney with Legal Aid Service of Broward County, Inc. filed the lawsuit on Nov. 9.

“Right now, the number is at 115 people, but it could eventually include as many as 20,000,” Clyne said.

“It’s hard to estimate, but damages could amount to $25 to $40 million depending on the final number of plaintiffs, but we are not placing any amounts on the case.”

City officials say they have yet to be served in the case, and declined to comment on it.

“I have seen an unsigned version of what purports to be the lawsuit in question that was provided to me by a reporter,” Fort Lauderdale City Attorney Harry Stewart said. “I do not believe that the city has been served with the suit, at least it has not reached my office.”

The complaint spans 38 pages of allegations related to toxins that have been confirmed in the Durrs neighborhood.

Durrs is a predominantly black, lower-income community that is a mix of single-family homes and subsidized rental complexes. The lawsuit seeks testing, health monitoring, compensation, damages and attorneys fees for the plaintiffs.

The city operated a garbage incinerator in the Durrs neighborhood, located north of Sistrunk Boulevard and east of Interstate 95, from the late 1920s to the mid-1950s.

The incinerator churned out ash from burned garbage and other materials, and spewed it into the air during that period, sometimes for 24 hours a day. Residents who lived there can recall how the ash fell like snow, covering their yards, clothing, homes and cars.

Many of those same residents believe that the ash is the source of the higher-than-normal rates of cancer, and other ailments afflicting them.

Royster, the Downbeat Club owner, grew up in the Durrs area, attended Lincoln Park Elementary, and still has a brother and other relatives who live in the area. Most, if not all of them, are suffering from various cancers and other conditions that are not common in her family, she said.

“Nobody cares, they simply don’t care,” she said. “Maybe this is the key. My brother has all of these ailments, like asthma and other things, and I just think it’s a shame we were not told anything about the dangers here.”

The lawsuit places direct blame on the old city-owned incinerator and the ash it spewed for decades. It also states the city knew of the dangers the contaminants presented, but took no action to address the issues.

In addition to Royster, the plaintiffs include current and former residents, people who attended Lincoln Park Elementary – a school once located in the neighborhood – property owners, users of Lincoln Park, and individuals who may have been otherwise exposed to the area’s toxins.

City officials stand by their position that there are no definitive studies that link residents’ ailments to the operation of the incinerator or toxins in the area.

The case stems from the results of a joint study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the Florida Department of Health. The study was released on March 27.

In the study, health officials warned area residents not to eat certain vegetables grown in their gardens, to thoroughly wash other vegetables, to dust themselves off before entering their houses, and to refrain from breathing dust from the area because of toxins in the soil.

The agencies’ warnings and precautionary steps were never distributed to residents.

Many say they first learned about the warnings in an April 27 story in the Broward Times.

During an Aug. 7 community meeting on the issue, city representatives and health officials acknowledged they had not disseminated the information, and had not settled on any concrete solutions to the problems.

“I want to apologize,” said Craig C. Clevenger, a city environmental consultant, at that meeting. “I don't have an answer to your questions.”

Fort Lauderdale city commissioners did not attend the meeting. Clevenger and Albert Carbon, the city’s public works director, said at that meeting that the city had an action plan that would be made public.

Area residents such as Walter “Mickey” Hinton, the Durrs Homeowners Association president, say they have yet to see any such plan.

Hinton said his wife and daughters are all suffering from various health ailments, including cancer. Hinton and his wife have lived in the Durrs neighborhood since the 1960s and are among the increasing number of people who have signed on as plaintiffs to the lawsuit.

During the Aug. 7 community meeting, city officials proposed to conduct further tests, and to fence off and clean up areas where elevated levels of toxins have been found.

When a reporter visited the area earlier this week, however, he noticed that fences had been torn down at some of those locations, and that no cleanup had begun.

Mayor Jim Naugle said that before any major efforts are undertaken in the area, the first step is to determine who is responsible for the costs. That’s a step that took place before the cleanup of the larger Wingate landfill nearby.

“We would have to identify a funding source,” Naugle said. “The cleanup of the Wingate site was funded by the PRPs [potential responsible parties], for something that happened over 50 years ago. The federal government was one of major users of the Lincoln Park incinerator, so I would think they bear some responsibilities.”

Caro and Legal Aid have also battled Fort Lauderdale over the cleanup of the toxic Wingate landfill. Legal Aid wanted the toxins removed from the Wingate site, instead of the plastic cap that was placed over the contaminants.

Legal Aid also recently settled a federal lawsuit against the city over an intensive code enforcement program that targeted three predominantly black neighborhoods, including Durrs.

Litigation in the current toxins case is expected to be costly.

Stewart would not say whether Fort Lauderdale officials have hired an outside law firm to represent the city in the case, but he suggested that the defense would be vigorous.

“The city will use both internal and external resources to defend this lawsuit,” Stewart said. “The city will respond to the specific allegations in the complaint in accordance with the rules governing litigation.”

No comments: