Cancer-causing chemicals found in Cocoa Beach groundwater a day before Erin Brockovich visit

By Jim Waymer, Florida Today

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. - A day before environmental activist Erin Brockovich visits the Space Coast, the city of Cocoa Beach released a new round of water samples Friday that show yet more evidence that cancer-causing chemicals linked with firefighting foams once used at Patrick Air Force Base are widespread in the city's groundwater and sewage.

The latest tests for fluorinated chemicals in the city's groundwater and sewage found 11 of 19 samples taken in August exceeded the federal drinking water guideline for the chemicals, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.

While Cocoa Beach's drinking water comes from sources on the mainland, the latest corroborating evidence of the toxic chemicals increases concerns that the contamination of the barrier island's water table is more widespread than originally feared with bigger health implications.

[READ: Satellite Beach asks state, feds for guidance on safe water standards, funding for cleanup]

The chemicals, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), were widely used in fire extinguishing foams. The chemicals were also used in pesticides, Teflon coatings and a litany of consumer and industrial products. Their use has been phased out but the compounds remain in the environment for decades and are not regulated.

On Aug. 14, SGS North America Inc. sampled 19 locations throughout Cocoa Beach to determine PFOS and PFOA concentrations in the collection system feeding the city's sewer treatment plant on Minutemen Causeway, the reuse water system downstream of the plant, and in groundwater near the sewage collection and distribution system. Six of the sampling locations involved groundwater, one was a surface water discharge of stormwater and reuse water runoff at the city golf course outfall. A dozen remaining samples were taken from the collection system that conveys sewage to the city's treatment plant and reuse water distribution system.

Mead & Hunt Inc. of Austin Texas, produced the report that summed up the results.

The results for PFOS/PFOA combined ranged from no detection of the compounds to 294 parts per trillion — the highest level measured — at a Patrick Air Force Base sewage lift Station. The second-highest level was 225.3 parts per trillion in a groundwater monitoring well at the city's golf course.

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A previous round of sampling this past summer yielded similar results.

The federal Lifetime Health Advisory (LHA) level for drinking water are 70 parts per trillion PFOS or PFOA or their combined sum. That level is based on daily ingestion over a lifetime and doesn't apply "to less direct or frequent exposure such as swimming and bathing or similar contact," the report says.

But a recent report by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry concluded levels of the compounds ought to be as much as 10 times lower in drinking water.

"We want to evaluate the latest test results," said Scott Barber, Cocoa Beach's water reclamation director. "We're going to be talking to our consultants, moving forward with that, then identifying potential sources of the compounds."

[READ: Florida Tech team studies muck in Indian River Lagoon]

Barber said the city has spent less than $8,000 so far on the sampling effort.

Satellite Beach and Brevard County and Patrick Air Force Base also have found the same chemicals in the beachside groundwater. Tests at Patrick in recent years found as high as 4.3 million parts per trillion in one groundwater sample.

But military, state and local utility officials say cleaning up the chemicals is held up by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has yet to set stricter cleanup target levels.

Rep. Thad Altman, R-Indialantic, wrote Gov. Rick Scott earlier this month asking him to direct the state health department to investigate the occurrence of cancers in the Satellite Beach area.

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

"To date, more than 400 cancer cases from the past and present have been reported from individuals who lived in the greater Satellite Beach, Cocoa Beach, and South Patrick Shores area," Altman wrote in the Sept. 12 letter. "Some of the reported cases are extremely rare, and it is troubling to see multiple diagnoses of these in a specific localized area. Although the Florida Department of Health has stated that the number of cases is not indicative of a cancer cluster, cases are continuously being reported, and there may still be possibility of an elevated risk."

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