Updated: Jun 27
SATELLITE BEACH, FL., May. 2, 2019 - A group of cancer survivors from Brevard County and Satellite Beach High School formed the non-profit organization, Fight for Zero after raising concerns about the high levels of disease rates and PFAS chemicals found in groundwater at Patrick Air Force Base in early 2018. The Department of Defense reported that monitoring wells indicated Patrick AFB had the third highest levels of perfluorinated compounds detected nationwide, at 4.3 million ppt. The Environmental Protection Agency's advisory levels are set to 70 ppt. The group anticipated that the odds of Satellite Beach being defined as a “cancer cluster” were slim. Since 1917 there have only been 19 cancer clusters established in the world, according to Wikipedia.
According to the Florida Department of Health, Florida has the second-highest cancer burden in the United States. In fact, cancer has surpassed heart disease as the leading cause of death for Floridians since 2011. Although the Brevard County Cancer Assessment reports a higher incidence of cancer in that area, a state health investigation did not find any evidence of a "cancer cluster" in the two zip codes they examined. Victoria Sittig, a Satellite High School graduate battling cancer, believes that it would be unrealistic to assume that the high levels of toxic fluorinated chemicals found in the blood and tissues of wildlife have no impact on humans. The health concern regarding PFAS chemicals is not limited to Satellite Beach. Health data collected by Fight for Zero members reveal disease hotspots along the Banana River and Indian River Lagoon where AFFF, a firefighting foam containing high amounts of PFAS chemicals, was utilized by the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The pollution extends beyond Patrick Air Force Base and other areas of Florida's space coast. Cancer advocate and executive director Stel Bailey emphasize that the decline in water quality in the Indian River Lagoon results from pollution and industry activities. Bailey also points out that records dating back to the 1970s show legacy contamination, plumes, and studies of wildlife exhibiting tumors and diseases. According to Bailey, the pollution problem isn't limited to Satellite Beach alone. She highlights that the Department of Defense is notorious for being the biggest polluter globally, and there are three active military bases and several aerospace companies in a small area. Bailey expresses her disappointment at the Department of Defense's negligence towards the health and well-being of service members, who were exposed to harmful chemicals like PFAS for decades despite knowing its harmful effects on the environment and health.
According to Jeff Dubitsky, Vice President of Fight for Zero and a Satellite Beach resident, "We know when something isn't "normal" and can make a positive impact without requiring a definition from the Florida Department of Health." To help lessen harmful exposures, Dubitsky and cancer survivors in the area request comprehensive independent environmental testing, blood testing, better access to healthcare, and other data for their community.
The Florida Department of Health study didn't look at other cancers or data from the military healthcare system. "Even with strict criteria, they couldn't avoid the significantly higher than normal cancer rates in two Brevard County zip codes," says Oncologist Greenwalt.
Identifying possible cancer clusters is crucial, but it can be challenging due to inadequate data. The available data does not provide a detailed picture, as it is only broken down by zip code and stops in 2015. DP Williman from DP GeoTech believes that we can do better in the 21st century. He is assisting Fight for Zero in mapping crowdsourced disease clusters in Florida.
Cancer Has No Municipal Boundaries
During the 1990s, several teenagers who resided in the community were diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma Cancer, making headlines in newspapers. Approximately 30 toxic waste dumps were located at Patrick Air Force Base and the nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, resulting in contaminated soil and groundwater. According to Richard Clapp, who analyzed over 1,000 cancer cases, the cluster in South Patrick Shores is one of the most notable in U.S. medical history. The Florida Department of Health determined that a "viral infection" was responsible for the high number of cases, 17 times higher than the national average. Out of the 40 cancer patients, only two have survived until today. There are concerns that state agencies may have tried to conceal or downplay the cluster of cases. Since June 2018, Fight for Zero has been investigating buried debris beneath homes in the South Patrick Shores neighborhood. The organization recommends that the area be designated a Formerly Used Defense Site (FUDS) and thoroughly analyzed. Experts affiliated with the group have raised concerns about possible vapor intrusion in the homes due to the area being used as a landfill by the Navy since the 1940s.
No Safety Level Set
According to the Brevard Cancer Assessment report, the impact was considered "minimal," but the Florida Department of Health declined to hold a community meeting to clarify their findings or why certain cancers linked to PFAS chemicals were excluded from the report. Government officials have yet to explain how they determine groundwater safety since there are no established safety limits (MCL) for PFAS chemicals by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or any equivalent state limit. As science catches up, it will show that PFAS chemicals are much more harmful than initially thought. Fight for Zero asks that residents submit their health information so that the organization can show the impact to agencies and Congress in Washington, DC, this month. Documents & Sources:
Cancer Cluster in America: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cancer_clusters
Brevard County Cancer Cluster Assessment: https://drive.google.com/file/d/12hb0oONtTFVSLA2UUlIpgBAt3nRn3Bbu/view?usp=drive_link
Department of Defense 2018 PFAS Report: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ymBUq72Usgt21eye49l0H4c-CFxhNLu5/view?usp=drive_link
Blood and Tissues of Wildlife: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1mPHikJr6U26aj5fj0L5rWeeoyR6-DoZY/view?usp=sharing
30 Toxic Waste Dumps: https://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/os-xpm-1992-03-26-9203260719-story.html
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