Is Key West Military Housing Making People Sick?

March 31, 2017

by Arnaud and Naja Girard…….

[Story summary below, please see video above]

For over a month we’ve been following the stories of military families who claim that living on base on Sigsbee Island is making them sick. They say something in those houses is causing an alarming number of health issues and their children are the main victims.

Key West military housing is owned and managed by a private British conglomerate called Balfour Beatty. How did Balfour Beatty end up owning all of Key West’s military housing? Well, the Navy gave it to them. In 2007 the two signed on to a “public private venture”. The Navy gave Balfour all of its housing stock on the east coast. In exchange, Balfour would renovate and manage the aging Navy housing.

In Key West, Balfour tore down and rebuilt all of the officer housing on Trumbo Point. But families of enlisted members complain that they still live in houses that were damaged by flooding during Hurricane Wilma.

Some of Balfour’s Sigsbee Island tenants, frustrated at the lack of action, created a Facebook Group to exchange information on what they perceive as a health crisis. There are over 100 members.

After Adell Debarbo and her daughter became ill and her husband began experiencing short-term memory loss, she became convinced there was mold in her Sigsbee home and it was making them all sick. Adell and her family moved out and now live in an RV they purchased.  She says she and her daughter are feeling much better since they left. Adell says her complaints about health concerns for other families living at Sigsbee have been left unanswered.

There are approximately 500 homes on Sigsbee Island. Most are occupied by the families of active military personnel. All are owned and managed by Balfour Beatty.

Adell says the homes were not properly dried out and repaired following the 2005 hurricane. So, we came back with a mold expert from Inspect Key West. Hugh Johnson, is a certified Home Inspector and Mold Assessor. Hugh quickly discovered that some baseboards in the home Adell brought him to were damp.  The old A/C also appeared a possible culprit.

Adell thinks Balfour Beatty’s search for higher profits is the reason why Sigsbee housing has not been properly renovated. She points to the old A/C’s that pre-date Hurricane Wilma.

Balfour Beatty’s profits have been a subject of controversy in Key West. Four years ago the Blue Paper blew the whistle on the company after discovering they had escaped paying millions of dollars in local property taxes. The Property Appraiser began assessing them and filed liens on the homes in excess of 11 million dollars. The Florida legislature reacted by granting them a property tax exemption [retroactive]. The savings in tax payments, they argued, would be used to better house military families.

Then Balfour convinced the Navy to let them sell Peary Court, a 160 unit complex located on White Street, built by the Navy in the early 90’s. The $35 million dollar revenue from the sale, they claimed, would help ensure the company could continue to improve housing for military families.

According to the Financial Times Balfour earned 4.2 billion dollars in the US alone last year. Yet restoration of its Key West housing stock has remained at a stand still. The Navy has declined to comment on this story; however, a few years back the Blue Paper obtained copies of emails written by then Key West Base Commander Holmes. He had not disguised his disillusionment with the Balfour Beatty deal:

“The bottom line,” he wrote, “is that I think the military members are going to continue to get the short end of the stick in this deal when the entire project was put together to improve quality of life in our housing areas.”

In the meantime, complaints on the Sigsbee housing issues Facebook page continue to pile up:

“So we have lived here for 2 years and when we moved in I would always smell a weird odor and my throat and eyes would burn when I walked through the laundry room. After opening the slide out door we saw it had some spots growing on it and called it in. Long story short it kept coming back worse and worse and they kept denying it was mold. It spread all throughout the laundry room and in the kitchen. The guy who would come to repair it was in shock and just agreed that it was bad. When I walk by now I can smell the weird odor again and my throat hurts so I’m guessing that’s not good. As far as health problems that may be caused by it ,my daughter does have asthma now and needs breathing treatments regularly and my son also get bumps all over which I was told is eczema but who knows. Again just ready to move.”

“I was diagnosed with Lupus after living in sigsbee housing and found out last night that another friend of my husbands who was also stationed in kw and lived there has been diagnosed with ms. It is sad and something needs to be done.”

“Hello all, , I lived in Sigsbee townhomes for 2 years…. After we got there my son (who was 1.5-2) started getting these bump, I can’t for the life of me remember the scientific name right now, any-who they started spreading, after some research I found out that it could have been caused by fungus….. They eventually went away with treatments….. About 6 months prior to us leaving my son started having breathing problems, he ended up needing treatments 2-3 times a day. Drs just kept saying allergies/asthma etc, we went away for a week to Tampa for my daughters state competition. The entire time we were gone, he didn’t need any breathing treatments. As soon as we got back home it started again. We ended up leaving and he hasn’t needed a treatment since. It’s been 1.5 years. Those houses are horrible….”

“I’m wondering if anyone is having similar issues. We moved into housing a little over a year ago. A few months after moving in my daughter started getting swollen lymphnodes, and over the past 10 months we have gone from the general doctors, allergist, ENT, and now we are seeing a hemotologist because the Doctors are unsure of what is causing them. Beside her my husband, myself and younger daughter have also been nonstop sick. It seems like we cannot get a break. The first picture is of last March when I complained of glue coming out from my flooring. They sent a flooring company out shortly after and it was determined we had salt water intrusion and moisture was coming up from the concrete slab. About half of my living room was replaced and we still continued to have gunk coming from some of the vinyl tiles. Long story short, we complained about it and showed pictures from the past time to let them know the severity of it. Maintenances was sent out. Cleaned and sealed the corners. I asked if that was all he was going to do and he said yes so I asked him to leave because the issue was not being corrected.”

“Remember when J went through that?? It was AWFUL!! We had to rush him to the ER he had developed polyps in his sinus cavities and they were pressing on his nerves!! They were gonna cut into his face but I refused!! He also got the shots T did for a year & half it was TERRIBLE!!! Yep!!! J came home for Christmas & immediately he started suffering again! He said when he’s in VA he’s fine but as soon as he comes home he’s all messed up again.”


The mold lab results are [below]. They indicate that mold spore levels are low, but Aspergillus/Penicillium-Like spores are showing up on the inside sample and do not appear on the outside sample. This suggests that Aspergillus/Penicillium-Like mold colonies are growing inside the house.
The AC system appears to be a source for mold spores and aged beyond its life expectancy.
At least two interior walls were wet along the baseboards. Mold spores are likely being produced in these areas. Signs of termite activity and wood rot were also observed.
The floor tiles, glued to a moist concrete slab, may contain asbestos. Some tiles are deteriorating which may result in airborne asbestos particles.  I recommend that a qualified asbestos assessor evaluate that issue.
The level of carbon dioxide in the air during the inspection was approximately 900 parts per million inside the house.   400-800 ppm is what I consider to be a healthy indoor range, but the thresholds are debatable.  Sources of CO2 are usually humans, pets, fossil fuel combustion and from the ground.  I recommend leaving at least one window open to permit the exchange of air.
                                                                    ~Hugh Johnson, Inspect Key West

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6 thoughts on “Is Key West Military Housing Making People Sick?

  1. Without reading the entire contract it does seem that the company failed to comply to properly maintain the buildings. If was from Wilma then insurance assuming they were insured should have paid for the repairs. This deal SMELLS like the Peary court deal.

    What was this deal ? For life ? Sounds like another rip off. Do no repairs for as long as they can and just collect rent. A well known trick of property managers is spend nothing or little on maintenance because they profit by percentage of profit.

    So now what is the FAST solution ? Move them all out ? House them where ? Does this void the contract ? Even if it does they made a ton of money if they walk away. Why would such a deal ever been made when we could have the navy maintain it with hired contractors. And if proved to go back to damage from Wilma then we have even bigger issues as to who foots the bill. Dam shame that we gave up Peary court when we now might need it. I see a long court battle.

  2. I can’t imagine this article made the Navy and Balfour Beatty happy.

    I can’t imagine any Navy personnel living at Sigsbee, who read this article, being happy.

    I can’t imagine anyone having the problems these people described they and/or their family members were having, while living at Sigsbee, want to live there.

    I think the city commission wants the Navy to turn over unoccupied housing at Sigsbee to the city for affordable housing? Would the turnover include paying the new residents’ medical expenses?

    Facetious question.

    It does not appear there is any medical consensus for the various problems suffered by people living at Sigsbee. There does seem to be common sense consensus that living at Sigsbee caused the medical problems.

    What’s involved in ridding this kind of housing of mold? The old city hall on Angela Street had mold for years. People working there were ongoing having problems. That was on reason they decided to tear it down, it was viewed as not fixable. Or, that is my recollection from talking with people who worked there.

  3. Balfour owns many thousands of military housing in the USA. When they sold some of them a few years ago it was supposed to be for improving that housing stock. I believe they claimed they were losing money .It was essentially a financial bailout for them. Does anyone have a clue as to how much they received from those sales (and if the Navy got anything from them since they still owned the land ) ? Sure looks like they’re not taking very good care of things, and it seems to be a really lucrative deal for them , but not the people living there, and then there’s the medical bills which they seem to be able to pass on to the taxpayers. I hope someone will really dig into this. It’s all too fishy.

  4. First thing is we must send heath department and inspectors in to all of them. If mold then ordered them to be vacated and perhaps either repair or tear them down. All will come down to the actual contract and many trips to court. Can tell you if too far gone then cheaper to tear down. Who owns the ground ? Who owns the buildings ?

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