Hernando County residents say neighbor's illegal burning of old air conditioners is making them sick

DEP sent letter, but yard hasn't been cleaned up

WEEKI WACHEE, Fla. —  Weeki Wachee residents say their new neighbor is making them sick by taking apart old air conditioners and burning debris in his backyard.

The ABC Action News I-Team has uncovered the person responsible has a troubled past and is failing to comply with orders to clean up his mess.

“I feel like I'm dying. I feel like I'm literally dying,” said Danny Grenville.

He says toxic fumes are making him sick.

“I'm being eaten from the inside out,” he said.

There's no conclusive proof where the fumes are coming from, but Grenville thinks his neighbor's yard is a likely source.

It is filled with the remains of dozens of old air conditioners and a fire pit.

Grenville believes his neighbor may be releasing poisonous refrigerant and is burning hazardous debris like insulation and wires.

“He does it under the cover of darkness where nobody knows,” Grenville said.

“Most of us are sleeping. But then you get up in the morning and it's lingering,” said another neighbor, who didn’t want to be named.

“It's the most toxic thing I’ve ever smelled in my life… real bad plastic almost, but ten times worse than plastic burning,” that neighbor described.

“I start hacking like crazy. I cough so bad I think U'm gonna knock the wind out of myself,” said a third neighbor, who told us at least four people in the neighborhood have had breathing problems since their new neighbor moved in a few months ago.

The other neighbors don’t want to be identified, because they’re scared of their new neighbor, 35-year-old Matthew Theodore Smith.

Smith moved in after his former neighbor in Pasco County filed a restraining order against him.

Deputies arrested Smith in April after they say he threw a brick at that neighbor and punched his own wife in the face.

Smith previously served time for robbery and battery of a law enforcement officer.

A police report tells officers to "use caution" because "Matthew has violent tendencies." 

Yet he remains a licensed Florida air conditioning contractor and is the owner of MTS Air Conditioning.

The Hernando County Sheriff's Office says he hasn't been charged with illegal burning, because they say they don't have enough evidence.

“They need proof. They need to catch him burning,” Grenville said.

Records indicate firefighters found a fire smoldering on Smith's property on December 18, but no one answered the door when deputies responded.

A week earlier, investigators from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection found evidence of unauthorized storing, processing and disposing of solid waste and unauthorized open burning of solid waste.

Smith told DEP he would clean up the site within a week, but didn't. 

Records show Pasco County Code Enforcement investigated a dozen complaints at Smith’s former residence in Holiday, before he moved away

When we tried to talk to Smith, family members told us to leave.

We reached his parents on the phone, who say Smith has only burned yard debris in the past and don’t know why neighbors are complaining.

Neighbors think authorities should do more.

“People can burn tree limbs, leaves. Not the inside of air conditioning units,” said Grenville.

“It's gotta stop. It's gotta stop. There's got to be a point where people's gotta pay for their actions for what they do to people's health,” Grenville said.

DEP told us they planned to re-inspect the property early in the new year, but they have not yet taken any action besides sending a letter.

If you have a story you think the I-Team should investigate, contact us at adam@abcactionnews.com

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