The Florida Department of Health said today there is not a cancer cluster just east of Hialeah, in a neighborhood often referred to as Broadmoor.
On July 19th, 2012 a resident from the Broadmoor area, Vanessa Shelton, went before the Miami-Dade County Commission during a public hearing about a nearby metal recycling facility.
"My question," Shelton said, "is that the recycling plant, in the last year or so we have had eight people die of cancer and now they are expecting one more within two weeks to die. We don’t know if it’s coming from that. Because when you take your hand and wipe it over your car there’s black suit coming from everywhere."
"Really?" asked commission chairman Joe Martinez.
Broadmoor's county commissioner, Jean Monestime, sponsored a resolution encouraging the Miami-Dade Health Department to look into the claim. That resolution, co-sponsored by Commissioner Barbara Jordan, passed in early September but the Miami-Dade Health Department - part of the Florida Department of Health - started looking into the matter before that.
The Department of Health's investigation took almost two months. Dr. Youjie Huang, a state health department cancer expert and medical epidemiologist, looked at cancer cases from 2000 to 2010 - the most recent data available, he said - for a two census tract containing Broadmoor (specifically census tracts 9.01 and 9.02).
During that 11-year span, 693 incidences of cancer were diagnosed or treated in the area. Huang writes in a report:
The major types of cancer found in the 2-tract area were: prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, lung and bronchus cancer, breast cancer, leukemia, head and neck cancer, bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and stomach cancer. These cancers counted for 72% of all cancers in the areas. Prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, lung and bronchus cancer, breast cancer, leukemia, head and neck cancer, bladder cancer, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma are also the top types of cancer among all Floridians.
Huang told reporters on a conference call today that, "the majority type of cancers have either the similar incidence or even lower rate than the state average."
The one exception was the rate of stomach cancer. Given state numbers, Huang reported he expected to see just over 11 cases of stomach cancer from 2000 to 2010 in the 2-tract area containing Broadmoor. In reality there were more than twice the expected number of cases: 23.
Lillian Rivera who runs the Miami-Dade Health Department, pointed out that stomach cancer shows up more frequently in Asian and Hispanic populations "and the majority of the folks who live in this community are from Hispanic descent."
In response to the health department's report, Commissioner Monestime wrote in an email:
This information is troubling and bears further investigation.
Since the original resolution was adopted, many more residents in the Broadmoor community have complained about asthma, trouble breathing and other respiratory ailments. In the coming weeks, I will ask the Florida Department of Health to look into these concerns. The health and safety of the residents in my district is my top priority.
Rivera told reporters that the Department of Health's investigation was into cancer only, not respiratory problems. When asked about Monestime's statement, she said, "this is where it stops (for us)... If he wants to do any further investigation he's going to have to. Right now we have all that we need to basically conclude this."