(Florida International University) -Cancer-causing chemicals found at a contaminated site on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard (Northwest 62nd Street) will be cleaned up and, for now, they pose little hazard for nearby residents, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Two chemicals – tricholoroethylene and tetrachloroethylene – were found in ground water at 798 NW 62nd St., where a dry cleaner, Continental Cleaners, operated from 1967 to 2005, the result of improper disposal of the materials, according to a state expert. Continental still operates at the same site but only as a drop-off/pick-up location for cleaning and laundry.
“The compound has not gotten into the municipal drinking water,” Kyle Bryant, community involvement coordinator for the EPA, said at a recent meeting at the Belafonte TACOLCY Center called to update residents about the status of the property. “If you were eating a lot of dirt from the area, it would be a problem but, as there are not many vegetable gardens in the neighborhood, it shouldn’t be.”
Officials conceded, though, that property values near the site might be adversely impacted.
Because of the difficulty of the clean-up, the property has been designated a federal “Superfund” site, a status reserved for only the most seriously polluted toxic-waste locations.
It is the second contaminated site in Liberty City to hit the news this year. Sections of Olinda Park, 2101 NW 51st St., were closed earlier this year when high levels of arsenic and lead were found in the soil. The park is not a Superfund site.
Speaking to about 15 people at the meeting, officials said no public water supplies had been affected by the pollution at the former cleaners site but cautioned those using private wells near the site that their water might be affected.
The pollution came to light after investigations by the Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resources Management and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection found Continental’s owners were improperly disposing of the dry cleaning chemicals.
“The chemicals were being disposed down a drain which leads to an oil-water separator, a leftover from when the property was a gas station,” said Leslie Smith, a state environmental specialist. “The separator eventually overflowed, getting chemicals into the ground water.”
The compounds found at the site are used as dry-cleaning fluids. Both can cause cancer if they are inhaled or ingested over long periods. Sampling found neither of the chemicals in air near the property.
The actual damage to the community would be to the values of those houses around it.
"Having property near a contaminated site would negatively affect its evaluation,” said Barbara Alfano, EPA project manager for the site. “It might also deter economic development of the area if the property is not decontaminated.”
Though preliminary tests are complete, additional tests to determine the best way for the clean up will be required before the site is decontaminated. Even then, it will be several years before the cleanup is finished.
"The chemical is heavier than water around it and therefore sinks very deep into the soil,” said Ben Bentkowski, hydrologist with the EPA, “Until we know how deep it is, we do not know how extensive the cleanup will have to be."
Retha Boone, director of the Miami-Dade County Black Affairs Advisory Board, was satisfied with what she learned at the meeting.
"It answered all my questions. Now I can pass along this information to the community,” she said.
The EPA’s Bryant, who helped organize the meeting, hopes the word will indeed get out and ease any worries.
“This is not going to affect those walking by or even with dirt under their nails from the site,” Bryant said. “As long as you are not drinking water near the area, you will be fine.”
Alec Scott may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org