SOUTH PATRICK SHORES, FL., March 2023 - In 2018, residents living less than a mile south of Patrick Space Force Base raised concerns about military debris buried under their homes. The area, previously a Navy landfill, now has over 300 homes built on it.
In 1980, Congress acknowledged the risks associated with disposing of hazardous waste through burial. Federal authorities located 54 toxic dump sites in Florida where such materials were present. These substances can infiltrate groundwater, leading to environmental harm and contamination of drinking water. Additionally, they are capable of damaging plant life, causing soil erosion, and releasing harmful gases that can permeate residential areas.
In the 1970s, the U.S. Air Force dealt with landfills by covering the waste with a layer of soil between 1 to 12 feet deep. These landfills did not have control measures, such as liners or impermeable caps, so hazardous materials could easily migrate from the site. Open dumpsites without liners pose a significant risk for groundwater contamination.
After WWII, toxic chemicals are suspected of contaminating water on bases and nearby communities with chemicals ranging from cleaning solvents, explosives, and firefighting foam. This contamination has been linked to numerous health problems, including cancers, asthma, colon and digestive disorders, stillbirths, miscarriages, headaches, and nose bleeds.
Jacksonville oncologist, along with cancer survivors and nationally recognized environmental health advocate Stel Bailey helped get the state to investigate cancers in the Satellite Beach and Suntree area. After a yearlong wait, the Florida Department of Health released the results in May 2019. They concluded that cancer rates were higher but that there was no significant public health risk. The agency failed to examine all cancer types and didn't include hundreds of local cancer cases reported to the department. Breast cancer was one they left out that is associated with chemical exposures, as seen in a Camp Lejeune study. Fight for Zero, hosted a community meeting with renowned environmental activist Erin Brockovich in September 2018. A week before the meeting, they met with Brockovich's water consultant Bob Bowcock to tour the water treatment plants, review years of research, share crowdsourced data with mapping, and more insight into the area. Bowcock was immediately concerned that homes had soil vapor intrusion. An Army Corps of Engineers presentation in August 2021 validated his concerns. Bowcock criticized the military for dismissing and belittling the risks from their past activities on and near the base. He refers to numerous examples of the Department of Defenses' contamination from Camp Lejeune to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. In the '90s, the community of about 3,000 residents had 11 cases of Hodgkin's Lymphoma and an additional 16 cases on the base, totaling 27 cases of cancer. Statistically, two cases of Hodgkin's disease could have been expected in the area. They also had a high incidence of Lou Gehrig's (ALS) disease. Residents brought health concerns to state and federal agencies who ultimately blamed cancer cases on a virus and went silent. Hazardous Waste Violations
The military is one of the country's largest polluters. Patrick Space Force Base (formerly air force) has been inspected many times, dating back to 1986 by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) agency. In July 2014, the facility was out of compliance with violations, including failure to properly identify hazardous wastes, exceeding the limit of stored hazardous waste, failure to properly label containers, improper storage of hazardous waste that exceeded toxicity limits for cadmium, management of hazardous waste without a permit and disposal of toxic warfarin trash to a local landfill. When FDEP inspectors went to the facility to inspect on July 22, 2015, the Base would not allow the inspectors to access the grounds. According to the notes in the following inspection in September, this matter was closed without formal enforcement.  Patrick's toxic dumps have been under scrutiny since the abnormal rate of Hodgkin's Disease first headlines in the '90s. In November of 1991, the EPA conducted soil and groundwater sampling in South Patrick Shores and detected elevated levels of lead and aluminum. The aluminum levels in one well were 2000-3000 times greater than levels seen in all other wells. There was one sample from a well in 1991 that exceeded health criteria. It showed PCBs, metals, pesticides, and volatile organic compounds. State and federal experts told papers that the South Patrick Shores neighborhood was built over an old military dump, but tests showed no toxins in the soil or water under homes. A Formerly Used Defense Site (FUDS) Designation
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers designated an area of South Patrick Shores in 2019 as a part of their Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS) program after decades of residents uncovered buried military debris. The designation puts the neighborhood in line for a federal investigation. Officials failed to find records of the military owning or leasing the South Patrick Shores land in 1991. Then in 2018, national attention was brought to the area by Erin Brockovich, who shared videos by Fight for Zero where the group metal detected and dug up buried debris from residential yards. Debris ranged from military dog tags, rounds, small practice bombs, airplane parts, vintage Pepsi bottles, and more. Fight for Zero met with Congressman Bill Posey in Washington DC in 2019, whose office found records showing the Navy used the property. Patrick was formally known as Banana River Naval Air Station until 1950. The area became eligible for cleanup under the Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS) program. The collaborative efforts between Fight for Zero, experts, national allies, and residents who demanded an investigation by emailing state and federal officials compelled the federal government to take action over 30 years after the initial disease cluster surfaced. Area Targeted for Cleanup
On February 27, 2023, the federal government began its investigation with ground penetrating radar (GPR). This radar surveys the top of the ground using a small lawnmower-sized instrument. They will scan yards in the area that signed the "rights-of-entry" forms to test for groundwater and soil contamination. A draft report is expected to be released in mid-2024. Three hundred property owners were eligible for the environmental investigation. So far, 182 owners have signed the "right-of-entry" form to allow the Corps to explore their yards. The agency will test homes for vapors if the groundwater or soil samples cause concern.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is preparing to begin the first phase of the Remedial Investigation field work (ground penetrating radar) near Patrick Space Force Base. For information, email FUDS.Florida@usace.army.mil or call 800-710-5184. Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS) mapping by Fight for Zero: https://www.fight4zero.org/fudsmap
Fight for Zero is composed of seven chapters in the state of Florida and works with community groups from across the country directly impacted by toxic exposures. The organization aims to protect natural resources while fighting for zero illness. They have been at the forefront of numerous environmental health investigations. For more information on Fight for Zero, please visit http://www.fight4zeor.org, and please consider donating to help continue this work!