City of Titusville Sewage Spill Puts Child in Hospital with Lifelong Health Issues from Infection

TITUSVILLE, FLORIDA - The northern watershed of the Indian River Lagoon began to turn a vibrant iridescent green during the summer of 2020. What was once the "lagoon fishing capital of the world" and known as the most biologically diverse estuary in North America has succumbed to decades of pollution. The visibly green water indicated an algal boom which can produce toxins that make people and animals sick. 

The City of Titusville is situated in the northernmost part of the Indian River Lagoon and has had some of the most wastewater overflows and system failures. This part of the 181 miles of the lagoon is brackish water and wind-driven. It has no inflow causing the water to sit stagnant at times, a recipe for catastrophe with chemicals washing into the waterways during the rainy season, leaking septic tanks, sewage spills, and more. 

The water goes beneath the A. Max Brewer Bridge which takes you from the City of Titusville into the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore beach. It is also a popular location for space center tourists, which brings a record number of visitors to the area. The motto on Titusville's sign says, "The Gateway to Nature and Space." 

Throughout the summer of 2020, a grassroots nonprofit organization known as Fight for Zero, working to protect Florida's natural resources and studying the health impacts of pollution on people, held numerous "Demand Clean Water" marches on the A. Max Brewer Bridge to raise awareness of the active algal bloom taking place beneath. The vibrant green hues that overtook the waterways were a clear indication that something was wrong. 

The group collaborated with advocates from across Brevard and Volusia County and was inspired to put together a statewide bridge march with famous environmental advocate Erin Brockovich promoting the event. Visibility was brought to the declined waterways as tourists and locals crossed the bridge to enjoy the outdoors. The group used handmade signs and a poop emoji costume while streaming the marches live through social media. 

Less than five months later, in December 2020, the City of Titusville learned that a pipe had burst at a community park known as Sand Point, which is located at the bottom of the bridge and often used to watch rocket launches over the Indian River Lagoon. The pipe break spilled more than 7 million gallons of raw sewage. 

Soon after the pipe collapsed, the banks of Sand Point Park in Titusville were lined with deteriorating fish, wildlife carcasses, and signs that read, "recent contamination as a result of a sanity sewer force main break may have made this area unsafe to use." 

As seven million gallons spilled, the city allowed a Christmas event known as Lights of Hope to take place directly next to the sewage-saturated pond where waste particles were aerosolizing, covered cars, and inhaled by those who attended. the stench of sewage overtook the park as food trucks and hot chocolate booths lined the streets up against the pond where the pipe had burst. Multiple residents brought forward concerns with the decision not to move the event to another location. The pond where the pipe collapsed is located in front of Sand Point Park but connects with other retention ponds that lead directly to the Indian River Lagoon. 

Whistleblowers who worked for the water department told the Fight for Zero environmental investigative team that sewage was diverted to a pond at Space View Park to avoid an even worse circumstance of human waste filling the streets in the historic downtown area of Titusville. One worker explained that there was a massive rainwater drainpipe that hooked up to the memorial pond and is connected to the Indian River Lagoon. That prompted the team to go out on the water to take footage of the pipe with concern that sewage was getting to the Indian River Lagoon in two different locations. Access to this pipe on land was blocked with fencing and no trespassing signs. 

The City of Titusville maintains that the sewage was contained and didn't make significant impacts on the Indian River Lagoon. However, the organization did an E. Coli, and toxin analysis, which showed that there were harmful bacteria in the Indian River Lagoon during the time of the spill. 

The Fight for Zero environmental investigative teams spent weeks interviewing residents who lived nearby, those who attended the Christmas event and became ill, documenting the spill, and attending city council meetings to bring forward health concerns. 

Longtime resident Stan Johnston became aware of the sewage spill and took immediate action to warn the community of the dangers of being exposed to the waste. He attached handmade signs to wooden stakes and hammered them around the park where the waste was released. Johnston attended every city council meeting and relentlessly brought the failure to protect citizens' health to the podium, sharing that friends and people he knew were getting headaches, nausea, and dizziness. His prompt actions to warn the community motivated the city to put in its own signage. 

The in-the-field Fight for Zero teams also experienced health impacts and had numerous people contact them regarding sinuses-like infections, vomiting, and other health concerns. Three people reported getting MRSA after swimming in the water, prompting a visit to the emergency room, not knowing there had been a sewage spill. The city council overlooked the health concerns and told residents if it was serious, they would go to the doctor. However, the pandemic and cost of care added challenges, and healthcare providers do not generally know how to handle these unique exposures to environmental hazards. 

Fight for Zero members are on record in 2021, suggesting knocking on homes to educate the community on harmful algal blooms and cyanobacteria. One city council member and Parrish Medical Center chairman was unsettled with the idea of warning the community of potential dangers lurking in the waterways. Harmful bacteria were present through scientific testing, which prompted the Department of Health to post a small 8 x 11 sign on the other side of the bridge at Parrish Park, hidden away from public view, warning of harmful toxins in the water. As the sign sat unnoticed, tourists and families swam in the water, completely unaware of the dangers. 

A mother filed a lawsuit after learning her child was exposed to harmful bacteria from paddleboarding and swimming in the Indian River Lagoon at Sand Point Park in Titusville, Florida, after over 7 million gallons of raw sewage spilled. The family was unaware of the busted pipe and leaking waste. Shortly after January 2, 2021, the child began complaining of back pain that escalated and spread to his legs. The mom immediately took him to Viera Hospital, which transferred him to Nemours Children's Hospital (Nemours). At Nemours, the child was given numerous treatments, including a blood transfusion and a spinal tap. The Spinal tap showed that he was suffering from a bacterial infection.

While at the hospital, the boy's treating physician informed him that the sewage spill by the City of Titusville likely caused this type of bacterial infection. The bacteria that cause this infection is found in sewage. 

To make matters worse, another person who had been swimming near Sand Point Park had just been admitted to the hospital for the same bacterial infection, showing that this bacterial infection was due to the City's sewage spill. This doesn't include any data on patients who went to local hospitals, such as Parrish Medical Center, around the time of the sewage spill. 

The boy has undergone extensive medical treatments, spent over two months in the hospital, has received over six rounds of chemotherapy treatments, is still unable to walk, and will have lifelong medical issues due to this infection. 

The City of Titusville filed a motion to dismiss the case in December of 2022, claiming they have no liability as a governmental entity, that they don't have a duty to warn the general public, and are immune from such lawsuits. The next hearing is scheduled for April 5, 2023, at Moore Justice Center with Judge Scott Blaue.

Environmental advocates and Titusville residents Katie Perez, Bill Klein, Elizabeth Baker, Kay Onge, Becca McCullough, and Laurilee Thompson documented the sewage spill. They attended numerous city council meetings to put their concerns on public record. Multiple requests were made, from shutting down the park to requesting environmental testing on the ponds and dredging them, which were declined. The city did take the suggestion to install floating wetlands in the retention ponds to uptake the nutrients. These mats help manage stormwater runoff and protect the water downstream.  

Many residents found that their concerns were passed from agency to agency with unanswered questions. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) sent residents to the Florida Department of Health (FDOH), which would then refer people to another agency and so forth. The failure to act caused the community memebers to get sick, and a child's life was forever altered. 

Simple measures that could have been immediately taken were visibly large warning signs in numerous areas, a mailer sent to residents or a message put into their water bill, all testing by agencies and the city publicized on their website, using social media to warn of the dangers of swimming and education on harmful bacteria (specifically harmful algal blooms, cyanobacteria, and bacteria found in raw sewage), putting up additional turbidity curtains, working with the Department of Health to collect illness data, and blocking off access to swimmable locations that were dangerous. 

In 2022 the City of Titusville requested funding from the state for the Osprey Water Reclamation Plant. They asked for $500,000 for a nutrient removal upgrade. 

To stay up to date on this report, please follow Fight for Zero Brevard on Facebook.


Physical contact is not the only way sewage can harm you. There’s a potential for aerosolization of viruses in wastewater systems. Health effects among plant workers were assessed in 2013, and it found that most sewage treatment plant staff were adversely affected as a result of bioaerosols inhalation. 

Major observed health effects were fatigue, dizziness, eye irritation, and abdominal pain.
Another Bioaerosols emission survey was done in 2015 and found one worker was hospitalized for a week with an MRSA infection of his face and sinuses. Other documented illnesses involved such things as pinkeye, intestinal infection from the Giardia parasite, hepatitis, and illness from E. coli.

Sewage contains a host of toxic chemicals that can kill fish and threaten human health. Some of the harmful chemicals found in sewage are Campylobacter jejuni bacteria, Salmonella, Escherichia coli or E. coli, Listeria bacteria, Cryptosporidium parasite, Adenovirus (commonly found in sewage and causes respiratory infections like pneumonia, croup, and bronchitis. It is also known to cause eye infections, such as conjunctivitis, Norovirus, and Rotavirus. 


One month after the sewage spill incident, deceased manatees began washing ashore. In March of 2021, a Usually Mortality Event (UME) for the Atlantic Florida Manatee was declared. Fight For Zero played a pivotal role in pushing for the UME through persistent advocacy, grassroots campaigns, partnering with organizations, involving stakeholders, and working with the local community to get national awareness. To find more coverage on the UME, visit: Indian River Lagoon Manattees

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