A Florida Community Built on Top of a Landfill Next to Patrick Space Force Base

Evidence of Military Debris in South Patrick Shores

Patrick Air Force Base borders the South Patrick Shores neighborhood and has 21 active sites where military cleanup actions are still 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 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, toxic chemicals are suspected of contaminating water on bases and nearby communities with chemicals ranging from cleaning solvents, explosives, and firefighting foam. Some health issues include cancers, asthma, colon and digestive disorders, stillbirths, miscarriages, headaches, and nose bleeds.

Dog tag found buried in South Patrick Shores backyard. 

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 were dug up in South Patrick Shore resident's backyard. Discarded contents from rounds, burnt silverware that looked like 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. On July 15 and 16, 2014, the facility was out of compliance with violations, including failure to correctly 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 conduct an inspection 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]

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 was finding more severe problems like carcinogenic pesticide leaching in the local waters. 

Patrick's toxic dumps have been under scrutiny since the abnormal rate of Hodgkin's 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 detected 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. 

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 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 incidence 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 in the last decade are documented to be diagnosed with rare cancers. 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 and health-protective state and federal legislation. In November 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency vowed to reassess South Patrick Shores, but decades of delay in addressing these issues leave 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 residents back yard with a munition in a box.

Naval Air Station Banana River Off-Base Disposal Area: https://usace.contentdm.oclc.org/utils/getfile/collection/p16021coll7/id/12612

Update: On 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 assessing the waste buried 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. 108 drums were removed and disposed of, along with associated contaminated soil, as part of the IM. In 1997, a Feasibility Study was performed 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. 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, 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. Soils.org: 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:

  1. The Buffalo News: Are Love Canal chemicals still making people sick?
  2. Washington IAN: The Toxic Waste Pit Next Door
  3. www.cbrneportal: The disposal of nuclear waste into the world's oceans 

Most Recent Updates:

Naval Air Station Banana River Off-Base Disposal Area: Formerly Used Defense Site Banana River 

April 2020 Update: Preliminary Assessment 

Credit: Mapping & Photography by D.P. Braden | Photography by Stel Bailey 

Fight for Zero

Our team brings passion and drive to take on environmental health challenges. Our mission is to inform, educate, share resources, and inspire action to protect natural resources.

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