What's worse than a rotten-egg-stench-belching sewage plant in your back yard?
How about an odiferous shit factory that poisons your family and leaves you with severe neurological damage?
That's exactly what John Rosser, a 58-year-old retired pilot, says happened to him in Key Biscayne.
Now Rosser has abandoned his dream home on the tony island, taped ominous "Danger: Poison Gas" signs to his front door, and filed a civil lawsuit against the city. Despite the suit and a violation letter from the Department of Environmental Resources Management, Rosser says Key Biscayne officials have ignored his neighbors' complaints and done nada.
Now Rosser and his wife, Virginia, live with friends and struggle daily with headaches, coughs, and sinus infections.
"We've been poisoned," Rosser says. "I hoped the city would admit what they've done and fix the problem, but they don't seem interested in that."
Rosser bought his home, a modest one-story ranch amidst the island's gleaming mansions, for $130,000 in 1984 after retiring from Eastern Airlines. Now the place is worth $1.2 million -- or at least it was until Key Biscayne decided to put a sewage plant next to his backyard.
After work began in January '08, Rosser and his neighbors noticed a horrific odor. By the time it was finished in October, Rosser couldn't go into his backyard without gagging. "It smelled so bad in our front yard, it came right into our living room," says neighbor Enrique Bahamon.
Late that fall, Rosser and his wife started getting regular illnesses. He visited several doctors, but didn't stumble on the cause until this spring: hydrogen sulfide poisoning. The gas behind the sewage's potent smell can wrack the brain and nervous system if regularly inhaled.
The Rossers fled their home in May and filed a suit against the city and Metro Equipment Services, the contractor who built the plant.
In June, DERM sent Key Biscayne officials a letter. The plant, they said, was built without proper permits and was emitting too much hydrogen sulfide. Two days later, Key Biscayne village manager Chip Iglesias sent residents a letter laying responsibility on Miami-Dade Water and Sewer.
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Today, the plant -- a collection of metal boxes and a sewer grate -- is still churning next to Rosser's picket fence. Conchita Alvarez, Key Biscayne's city clerk, says she can't comment on an ongoing suit. Water and Sewer officials also declined to comment.
Neighbors say the odor has lessened recently -- but they worry whether Rosser's symptoms mean their own families have been poisoned.
"We all get headaches," Bahamon says. "We just hope we don't end up like John."