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What Lies Beneath South Patrick Shores?

Evidence of Military Debris in South Patrick Shores

South Patrick Shores is a beachside community situated on the east coast of Florida, where many come to invest in their dream home. Yet, there's an unexplainable legacy looming over this neighborhood. Every decade for the past fifty years, residents reawaken the discussion of military debris buried underneath their homes. 

Patrick Air Force Base borders the South Patrick Shores neighborhood and has 21 active sites where military cleanup actions are ongoing. 

It's no surprise that the military produces dangerous waste, whether its ammunition components, unexploded ordinance or paints, and thinners. The first reports of debris in South Patrick Shores were by workers in the 1950s who discovered vehicular batteries and barrels. Residents throughout the years believe that past dumping operations were carried out before homes were built. Archived newspapers indicate that landfills date back to the 1940s and leaked contaminants.

In 1992 Patrick AFB set to clean up the toxic dump near the Banana River. There were 30 toxic waste dumps at Patrick Air Force Base and nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station with contaminated soil and groundwater. Hazardous chemicals were tossed into landfills from World War II through the early 1980s.

History of Military Dumping

Congress in 1980 recognized the dangers of burying hazardous waste, and federal officials identified 54 toxic dump sites in Florida. When these dangerous materials leech into the groundwater, they can cause environmental damage and contaminate drinking water. They can also kill vegetation, cause erosion on the property, groundwater can be poisoned, and gasses can seep into homes.

In the early 1970s, the U.S. Air Force closed landfills by covering waste with a soil layer ranging from 1 to 12 feet deep. No other control measures (e.g., liners or impermeable caps) were installed when the landfills were closed, leaving the hazardous materials in the landfills available to migrate from the site. Open dumpsites with no liners are considered a challenging issue in groundwater protection.

After WWII, the use of toxic chemicals is suspected of contaminating water on bases and nearby communities with chemicals ranging from cleaning solvents, explosives, and firefighting foam. Some health issues vary from cancers, asthma, colon and digestive disorders, stillbirths, miscarriages, headaches, and nose bleeds.

Dog tag found buried in South Patrick Shores backyard. 

Mortar found in a Satellite Beach back yard while digging to put in a new pool.

Rounds are found at the surface of many South Patrick Shores yards.
Old glass bottles dug up in a South Patrick Shore resident's backyard. The resident explained that they continuously find bottles, military tags, rounds, and other metal items when gardening.
Items dug up in South Patrick Shore resident's back yard. Discarded contents from rounds, burnt silverware that look as if they were doused with fuel and lit on fire. Could the burning waste be rich in lead, mercury, chromium or other compounds? 
Old photography paper
Wires and a metal container dug up in a South Patrick Shores yard in 2018 
More uncovered in a yard in South Patrick Shores

Hazardous Waste Violations

The military is one of the country's largest polluters. Patrick Air Force Base has been inspected many times, dating back to 1986 by the FDEP. 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. This matter was closed without formal enforcement, according to the notes in the following inspection in September.  [2]

Orlando Sentinel Archived Newspaper

An Issue of Multiple Contamination

In 1980, the Department of Defense acknowledged its pollution issues at many bases in the United States. However, Florida's Department of Environmental Protection found more severe problems like carcinogenic pesticide leaching in the local waters. 

Patrick's toxic dumps have been under scrutiny ever since the abnormal rate of Hodgkins Disease first made 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 present in the soil or water under homes. 

August of 2018 Florida Health Connection now known as Fight For Zero used a metal detector at a home in South Patrick Shores. Orange marking paint was outlined all over the half-acre lot, identifying other items believed to be buried. 

The red outline is a historical trench and the red dots show where reported military artifacts were found. 

Prevent Future Environmental Tragedy?

In the '90s, the community of about 3,000 residents had a total of 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.

Two decades later and the neighborhood is still facing a mysteriously high incident of illness. Public awareness resurfaced in 2018 after a March report by the Pentagon publicly-listed Patrick AFB as one of the bases that tested positive for perfluorinated compounds, also known as PFOA and PFOS.

A grassroots door-to-door crowdsourcing effort started through Fight For Zero. It began to reveal a series of complex illnesses - ALS, asthma in children, thyroid, miscarriages, and an abundance of cancer cases in the area. 

As similar incidences became more prevalent in neighboring cities such as Satellite Beach and Cocoa Beach, this anomaly seems to have spread. So far, 54 graduates from Satellite High School have documented to be diagnosed with rare cancers in the last decade. Generations continue to feel the effects of the mystery that started as Hodgkin's Disease in South Patrick Shores.

Worried about human health and environmental tragedy, residents and activists continue to push for answers. In November 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency vowed to reassess South Patrick Shores, but decades of delay in addressing these issues leaves communities feeling frustrated. The problem is complexity, accountability, and those reluctant to tackle this sensitive problem. 

The question remains if the local population faces health risks or if history is continually repeating itself with a pure coincidence of unburied debris and illnesses. 

Heat map shows cancer cases
Uniformed personal come from Patrick AFB in the middle of the night to box and take away a munition dug up in a South Patrick Shores residents back yard.
Uniformed personal leaving a South Patrick Shores resident back yard with a munition in a box.

Naval Air Station Banana River Off-Base Disposal Area:

Update: August 24, 2019, South Patrick Shores Approved for Federal Cleanup Program 

After decades of uncovering buried military debris in South Patrick Shores (called Banana River Naval Air Station until 1950) boarding Patrick Air Force Base, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has decided to designate an area as a part of their Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS) program, putting the area in line for a federal environmental cleanup, if Congress funds it.

The military is further assessing the waste buried just south of Patrick Air Force Base. If approved, the Corps will begin a remedial investigation. 

Patrick Air Force Base in the News
  1. February 12, 1988: Patrick Air Force Base Superfund Site
  2. July 14, 1991 Florida Today: Hodgkin's Disease Strikes 6 Times in Neighborhood
  3. August 4, 1991 Sun Sentinel: Hazardous Waste Disposal Plan Buried in Florida
  4. February 3, 1992 Orlando Sentinel: Military Protected, Poisoned Florida
  5. March 8, 1992 Florida Health Department: South Patrick Shores Health Consultation
  6. March 26, 1992 Orlando Sentinel: Patrick set to clean up toxic dump 
  7. February 2, 2005: DOD Facilities on the RCRA GPRA Cleanup Baseline
  8. July 19, 2016: Patrick Air Force Base Penalty Payment 
  9. March 1, 2019 Florida Today: EPA tests soil in South Patrick Shores
  10. March 14, 2019 Vero News: Concerned resident's request EPA tests for contaminants
Landfill #1 - Soil, groundwater, surface water, sediment, and biota were investigated in multiple phases beginning in 1984. After the initial phase of records review and site reconnaissance, groundwater, surface water, and sediment samples were collected between 1986 and 1988. The analytical results indicated the presence of constituents that could pose a risk to human health and the environment.
Landfill #2 - Identified potential threats to human health from groundwater and surface water contaminants, but no unacceptable ecological risks. An Interim Measure (IM) was conducted in 1989 to determine the extent of buried drums identified during an electromagnetic survey. The drums were found to be buried in a 100 ft by 100 ft area. A total of 108 drums were removed and disposed of, along with associated contaminated soil, as part of the IM. In 1997, a Feasibility Study was performed in order to select the appropriate remedy for the site (OBG, 1997).
Landfill #3 - Soil, groundwater, surface water, sediment, and biota were investigated in multiple phases beginning in 1984. After the initial phase of records review and site reconnaissance, groundwater, surface water, and sediment samples were collected between 1986 and 1988. The analytical results indicated the presence of constituents that could pose a risk to human health and the environment. In order to assess the nature and extent of contamination at the site and the potential risks to human health and the environment, a Remedial Investigation (RI) was recommended. Identified arsenic, chromium, lead, thallium, vanadium, pesticides, and phenol as groundwater COCs. Beryllium, lead, mercury, and bis(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (BEHP) were identified as surface water COCs. Mercury, pesticides, Aroclor-1254, and BEHP were identified as fish tissue COCs. The SB did not identify any COCs for soil; however, the buried waste remains on site.
Plate Shop - Between 1995 and 1997 the risk assessment identified a high potential for contamination in groundwater and soil to affect human health and the environment. The RCRA Facility Investigation confirmed a source of groundwater contamination, and also discovered another, upgradient area of VOC-contaminated groundwater around Facility 533.

Buried Toxic Waste Research:

  1. ProPublica: 21 Active Military Cleanup Sites 
  2. DOD Restoration Program: Defense Environmental Restoration Program 
  3. FUDS Interactive Map: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  4. The National Academies Press: Deep Buried of Toxic Wastes
  5. What are Soil Contaminates?
  6. EPA: Federal Agency Hazardous Waste Compliance Docket
  7. EPA: National Biennial RCRA Hazardous Waste Report: Based on 2003 Data

Other Documented Toxic Waste:

Contact: | | Credit: Mapping & Photography by D.P. Braden | Photography by Stel Bailey | Investigation done by the Fight For Zero team alongside members of the South Patrick Shores community.  

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  1. Please be sure that my Father, one of my brothers, and myself all lived in South Patrick Shores and were all diagnosed with cancers are included in your count. We lived at 104 Arlington St.between 1973 and 1988.
    Please keep me informed of upcoming findings and related news.
    Lori S. Veber

    1. Sorry to hear that your family went through the unimaginable with one diagnosis after another. Here is the latest news on South Patrick Shores (a FUDS designation):

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