The “Miami Monster”
Describing the incinerator as “working toward our own extinction”, Benson battled on and off for 10 years to get the County to clean up its act. First, he convinced officials to terminate its contract with the builder-operator of this waste-burning plant. He led parents and children on protest marches, and collected 10,000 signatures on petitions demanding change. Using vivid aerial photographs, he fixed the public eye on the disease-laden facility where garbage rotted in the outdoor sun and airborne ash containing heavy metals, with the potential for causing serious illness, spewed from superheated incinerator stacks. He designed and executed hard-hitting mail campaigns, and conducted surveys demonstrating that, tragically, his neighbors felt better and their health dramatically improved once they distanced themselves from their homes to breathe cleaner air.
His “Gruesome Times” newsletter, contains “All the garbage that’s fit to print”. Its screaming environmental graphics demand attention, as he speaks and writes in word pictures: “What has become an urban rite–the thoughtless incineration of society’s castoffs…A foul acid rain falls constantly over South Florida while mysterious maladies send the sick searching aimlessly for healers as we continue breathing untrustworthy air…The County was slowly contaminating our health and environment. What’s worse, they declined responsibility for it.”>/p>
Politicians hemmed and hawed, saying they didn’t know where the problem required attention – local, federal or state. Residents, however, knew that dangerous toxic substances mixed with nauseating odors, filled homes with foul air. Ring-around-the-collar was no joke, suspended ash particles, smoke and soot caused it. Following Benson’s investigations in Washington, Tallahassee and Dade County, Florida’s Department of Environmental Regulation directed Dade County to eliminate the problem.
When County officials ran up the white flag in February, 1986, and were ready to act, Benson gave them his list of improvements to be made:
- Drain the leachate ponds, containing millions of gallons of contaminated water used in the incineration process, (mixed and muddied with garbage ash and health-destroying bacteria, plus discarded toxic chemicals, killer biological pollutants and powerful industrial waste);
- Remove hundreds of thousands of discarded auto and truck tires behind the incinerator plant (a fire hazard plus breeding ground for a year-round crop of mosquitoes);
- Test for dioxin, the deadly part of Agent Orange which is emitted into the air as garbage is burned and is considered 10,000 times more deadly than strychnine, therefore, preventing even short-term exposure is essential.
It was agreed that testing for dioxins would commence after new boilers were installed. Benson himself tossed the last remaining junk tire onto a dump truck in 1988. A new sewer system was laid, the poisonous leachate ponds drained and contamination of his neighborhood’s drinking water from this source ended. Next, air cleaning devices and the Best Available Control Technology acid-gas scrubbers and filters were installed to stop poison emissions from the Miami Monster’s stacks, a testimony to Benson’s now-renowned patience and perseverance.