There are a rising number of families choosing cremation over burial for their loved ones. But a proposal to allow more crematoriums to be built in one county has some residents saying “not in my backyard.” 7’s Karen Hensel investigates.

In 2020, 7News cameras captured black smoke rising from three South Florida crematories.

These thick plumes billowed from the stack of a funeral home in Little Havana.

Sept. 2020, Steven Bedoya, Miami-Dade County: “That’s very thick. We haven’t seen it that badly. This is a first for us.”

More than two years later, in a different part of Miami-Dade, residents are airing new crematory concerns with 7 Investigates.

Susie Kolb, neighbor: “We were really blindsided by it because we found out– I found out about it on social media.”

A proposed ordinance would change county zoning laws to allow more funeral homes to operate their own onsite crematories.

They must undergo yearly inspections and be “no closer than 250 feet” from homes.

Some families say that’s not far enough.

Tom Wojnar, neighbor: “Two-hundred-fifty feet is nothing. There will be burning a human body, and you’ll be sitting here. It’s bad.”

Susie Kolb: “They want to put it that close to our neighborhood.”

Their neighborhood is Hampshire Homes in Southwest Miami-Dade.

The community’s closest properties are about 500 feet from Bernardo Garcia Funeral Home, a family-run business that plans to purchase a cremation system if the law passes.

Tom Wojnar: “You’ve got to think of the living, not the dead.”

A study published in 2018 found “…corpse cremation generates numerous harmful air pollutants…”

Now, there’s an online petition with more than 800 signatures opposing the proposed ordinance.

It was started by a resident in a community close to the Bernardo Garcia Funeral Home and includes details of our reporting from Little Havana.

Susie Kolb: “It might be unlikely to happen, but we don’t want that. We don’t want to even have that possibility.”

Peter Martin, Bernardo Garcia Funeral Homes: “We want to be transparent. This is not something we want to hide.”

Bernardo Garcia Funeral Director Peter Martin also saw our story.

Peter Martin: “So, after your news story, I kind of started thinking, I said, ‘All right, so this obviously was not a great image for our industry,’ and we wanted to figure out a way to make it better and to not have it repeat itself.”

Martin says the newest crematory systems automatically detect and correct any issues with visible smoke.

Peter Martin: “With that technology, what that allows is it takes away the user error.”

Karen Hensel: “You sound pretty confident that if you were to get the crematorium and get the new and upgraded, something like that is not going to happen here.”

Peter Martin: “I don’t see that something like that is going to happen.”

At a September meeting, the county’s air quality division chief addressed the health concerns.

Susana Palomino, Miami-Dade County: “There are pollutants of concern. However, if we maintain the continuous monitoring system and proper conditions, it shouldn’t be a problem.”

But a few residents also spoke, blasting the plan.

Paula Mandell, neighbor: “The proposed ordinance to allow crematories to be built in residential neighborhoods is one of the worst, if not the worst proposal to ever come from the board of county commissioners in my lifetime.”

Commissioner Raquel Regalado, the ordinance sponsor, acknowledged residents’ opposition has had an impact.

Last week, Regalado told 7News she is shelving the ordinance for now and asking county staff to go back to the drawing board.

Commissioner Raquel Regalado: “You know, I’m actually going to put a pin in it where we’re going to defer it. We’ve listened to the neighbors. The neighbors don’t want this. You know, they’re very adamant about not wanting this.”

With more and more families choosing cremations over burials, those in favor of the proposal say something is going to have to give.

Last year, 55% of bodies were cremated in Miami-Dade, and there may not be enough facilities to handle the demand in the years to come.

Karen Hensel, 7News.


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