County launches investigation after 7News documents black smoke billowing from Miami funeral home’s crematory

(WSVN) - What we found, and where we found it, was so concerning to county environmental officials, they immediately launched an investigation. The Nightteam’s Karen Hensel has our special assignment report, “Air of Trouble?”

Thick black smoke billowing into the air, not in an industrial park, but in busy Little Havana, and the smoke you’re seeing is from the burning of human bodies.

Dr. Naresh Kumar, Associate Professor of Environmental Health at University of Miami: “Those concentrations are alarmingly high.”

It started with a tip from a 7News viewer describing a “big black cloud” from Maspons Funeral Home on Southwest Eighth Street in Miami, so we went to check it out for ourselves.

On four separate days in August, we saw this black smoke coming from the funeral home’s crematory stack.

We also watched one day as the plume crossed the street toward people eating outside at Café Versailles.

Dr. Naresh Kumar: “Casket, body when they are incinerated at a high temperature, the very first thing that will be happening is it will be evaporating all the smoke coming out from the chimney.”

Dr. Naresh Kumar is an environmental scientist at the University of Miami who studies air quality. After seeing our video…

Dr. Naresh Kumar: “Wow…”

…Kumar says he’s concerned for those outdoor diners.

Dr. Naresh Kumar: “Some of the particles even can be dropped in the water, on the hand, or when you’re eating, for example. You’re ingesting some of them.”

So, what’s in the black smoke?

Dr. Naresh Kumar: “Some of them are even considered to be carcinogenic.”

A study published in 2018 by the National Institutes of Health found “…corpse cremation generates numerous harmful air pollutants…” that “…could have severe effects on the surrounding environment and human health.”

Dr. Naresh Kumar: “When you’re breathing them, they directly become part of your respiratory tract system, and from there, they become part of your circulatory system, so they go to your heart and circulating throughout the body.”

Inspection reports obtained by 7 Investigates show Maspons’ crematory passed inspection in both 2016 and 2018 with no violations.

Funeral homes are required to report so-called “upsets” of black smoke, but Miami-Dade County’s Division of Environmental Resources Management told us the funeral home has done “no self-reporting of issues or concerns for the site.”

We showed our video to Steven Bedoya, an environmental specialist with the county.

Karen Hensel: “So on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the worst, what’s the potential impact? How bad is this?”

Steven Bedoya, environmental specialist supervisor of Miami-Dade County: “So, I would put it at around a 7 or 8. It’s a high priority for us.”

Dr. Naresh Kumar: “I will say definitely 10. It shouldn’t be at all near a dining facility or a residential facility.”

Steven Bedoya: “That’s very thick. We haven’t seen it that badly. This is a first for us. We definitely have to investigate.”

Bedoya says they have never seen smoke in the thickness we documented at any facility they regulate, so they immediately launched an investigation and sent an inspector to Maspons Funeral Home.

And on that visit, the inspector saw “no visible emissions” and found “no violations.”

The inspector’s report reveals a possible coronavirus connection. The funeral home noted “an increase in crematory workload due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” including more “cremation of heavy bodies (~200+ lbs).”

But the inspector found they did not appear to overload their crematory unit on the four days we documented black smoke.

Karen Hensel (on the phone): “Hi, this is Karen Hensel with 7News, could I talk to someone about the black smoke that is coming out of your chimney right now?”

Maspons Funeral Home turned down our request for an interview.

Café Versailles did not comment.

Meanwhile, documents show Maspons Funeral Home is planning to add a second crematory unit at their Little Havana location. The county says they already have a construction permit for the new machine.

Steven Bedoya: “So they’re going to be adding another unit on-site. That’s going to be added emissions that they’re going to have on-site, so it’s going to be two units overall.”

Bottom line: He says no one should see any black smoke coming from any of the county’s 11 human crematories.

The investigation into what we saw continues.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Miami-Dade County DERM Environmental Complaints: EnvironmentalComplaints@miamidade.gov

305-372-6955

http://www.miamidade.gov/environment

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