Planned visit from famous activist brings optimism to Satellite Beach cancer survivors

Erin Brockovich to investigate possible cancer cluster next month

SATELLITE BEACH, Fla. – Citizens concerned about dozens of cancer cases and the discovery of traces of chemicals in the water system are pushing their search for the truth further.

Cancer survivor and advocate Stel Bailey of Florida Health Connection built a team that’s self-funded to collect more water samples to test for multiple cancer-causing chemicals.

“I think we’ve come a really long way," Bailey said of the community's continued efforts.

“I want to grow tomatoes and citrus plants in my backyard and I want to know that it’s not contaminated," Daniel Willemin, also of Florida Health Connection, said.

Groundwater testing this summer by the cities of Satellite Beach and Cocoa Beach tested positive for the same chemicals found at Patrick Air Force Base.

A decade ago, biologists discovered the chemicals in dolphins. This year, the same chemicals were found in mollet. 

Drinking water tested by Brevard Schools showed traces of those same chemicals in nine beachside schools.

The school district did follow-up testing this week, and as was concluded in July, school leaders are saying the water is safe.

“When did the bar become set so low that any trace of any chemical is safe," Satellite Beach parent Jeff Dubitsky asked. "How much cancer would you like in your glass of water? I prefer none," he said.

Another Satellite Beach parent, Kathy Marler, is the mother of a 10-year-old cancer survivor. 

Marler learned a woman who used to live in their house got the same cancer back in 1996.

“All we’re trying to do is make sure no other child gets cancer," Marler said. "We just want people focused on finding out what is the reason.”

Marler received reports from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection showing levels of a specific chemical associated with her son's cancer at a number as much as nearly five times higher than what the EPA says is unsafe.

That sample was collected from the Melbourne wastewater treatment plant in 2014, the same year the family moved to Satellite Beach.

Satellite Beach water comes from Melbourne.

The cities all declined to be interviewed for this story, and since reporting began on the issue, the military has not done interviews with the media.

[STORY: How chemicals can make their way into groundwater]

“There’s no way they’re going to hide it this time. Awareness is the first thing. Action is the second thing," Bailey said.

There’s a new advocate coming to the table saying she wants to help: famous environmental activist Erin Brockovich.

Brockovich’s coworker in California, Bob Bowcock, said she will work with the local municipalities and the military.

“Her getting involved actually does speed up the process," Bowcock said. "And if they're as sloppy with one chemical, you immediately have to assume they would be just as sloppy with the other chemicals, and perhaps we haven’t identified them yet."

Brockovich is expected to investigate in Satellite Beach at the end of September.

Marler was very happy to learn the news.

“She will come here and hopefully get answers for us," Marler said.

“Thank goodness that she’s coming," Jennifer Swisher, also a Satellite Beach parent, said. "But if she’s coming, we’ve got a problem."


About the Author:

James joined News 6 in March 2016 as the Brevard County Reporter. His arrival was the realization of a three-year effort to return to the state where his career began. James is from Pittsburgh, PA and graduated from Penn State in 2009 with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.