“What that allows is the removal of any potential bias from the selection, either from the city officials or the citizens,” Mayorga explained. “It relies on the randomness of the selection procedure.”
Toxicologists and epidemiologists with the state and county health departments are also reviewing tests for any risks to residents, he said.
Mayorga set a Monday deadline for results. But last week, assistant city manager Alice Bravo said the city would probably miss the deadline yet again and ask for another extension because it has been unable to get permission to test on all the private property.
“They know we’re working aggressively on this,” she said, explaining that delays over the years were caused by indecision about whether to move forward with the firefighters’ training center expansion.
“If you’re on the fence on whether you’re going to do the project, you want to do the remediation concurrently with the project,” she said. “What I can tell you is we’re fully aware of the issue and its history and we’re working hand in hand with DERM to address whatever is required.”
Robert Suarez, president of the city firefighters union, said that firefighters are concerned but have been assured the contamination is not an imminent danger.
“I’ve heard that though technically what they found is not the end of the world, the city’s lack of response is the bigger issue,” he said. “And if they’re not responding, how can we trust them that they’re remedying the situation.”
But residents have run out of patience.
“They still got the kids practicing on Carver field. They still got the kids at the Barnyard. They still got the kids at Carver Elementary and Carver Middle School,” said Pastor Jeffrey Hamilton, chairman of the Coconut Grove Ministerial Alliance, a partnership among the neighborhood’s historic black churches. “It may not be anything other than that particular site. But we need to find out.”
Residents are particularly incensed that they were never warned about the contamination. They first learned about the 2011 tests after UM law fellow Zach Lipshultz came across the city reports earlier this year while researching the Coral Gables trolley garage case.
“It’s been three and a half years,” Hamilton said. “The question the pastors ask is, what if we had not stumbled upon this?”
Ash and health problems
The history of Old Smoky is not unlike other incinerators of its generation. Once considered the most effective way of ridding cities and towns of their garbage, incinerators popped up everywhere.
The first was built in 1885 on Governor’s Island in New York, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. By the mid-1900s, hundreds operated across the country.
Little was known about their health risks, the EPA said, but in 1970, as the environmental movement peaked, Congress passed the Clean Air Act, establishing tough new restrictions and signaling the demise of many incinerators.
“Historically, they were just burning it. There were no emission controls,” said Monica Wilson, U.S. program director for the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives. “Before the regulations that said you had to capture the ash and truck it to a fill, it was probably piled up on site and that’s a real problem.”