Deadliest place in the Florida Keys? It’s East Islamorada. But what’s killing the people?



Not too many people are aware of a place called East Islamorada, but according to the Florida Department of Health, it is the deadliest place in the Keys.

East Islamorada is what the U.S. Census Bureau calls an area from about mile marker 86 to around mile marker 91 in the four-island village of Islamorada. There are more deaths on average in that area than in any of the other 24 Census tracts in Monroe County, said Alison Morales, health education director for the Florida Department of Health in Monroe County.

The Department of Health is seeking up to $53,000 from Islamorada to fund a study to find out what makes the area so dangerous to the public health. Part of the study will be to interview 351 Islamorada residents to get their opinion of the health department assessment.

The department conducted a similar study in Bahama Village in Key West in 2012. As a result, the low-income neighborhood was able to obtain more than $1 million in grants to renovate playgrounds and a gym in an effort to improve the health of its children.

East Islamorada has an older, more affluent population than Bahama Village, so the health issues identified are likely to be quite different.

Morales told the five-member Village Council last week that between 2006 and 2010, 247 people died of various causes in East Islamorada. The death rate is 12.2 per 1,000 people, Morales said.

Mayor Ted Blackburn is concerned about the rate since about 4,000 of the roughly 6,200 people in the village live in East Islamorada.

Although the study will determine more specific reasons for the high death rate, Morales said the Health Department already knows there is a high instance of liver, heart and lung disease in the area.

Mary Vanden Brook, administrative services director for the Department of Health in Monroe County, said there is a strong possibility the disease rate is at least partially related to the 700 liquor licenses in the Keys.

Drinking "is part of our heritage and our mystique and all that, but we're paying the cost," she said.

The Village Council didn't vote to approve the money but it will likely do so at its Jan. 23 meeting. So far, it's expected to get approval.

At least $10,000 will likely come from a grant the village is likely to soon receive, said Village Manager Ed Koconis.

Councilman David Purdo wants the Department of Health to look into whether the high death rate has anything to do with ground pollution on certain lots in the village. After ticking off a list of names of charter boat captains who have been diagnosed with cancer, Purdo said he fully supports the study.

"I don't mind spending that kind of money to save someone's like if we can," he said.

Read more Florida Keys stories from the Miami Herald

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