'I need to know what's going on': Community attends meeting about possible cancer cluster

Video: "I need to know what's going on." Residents attend meeting about cancer cluster in Satellite Beach

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. — A packed house crammed into the Satellite Beach Civic Center Sunday afternoon as city and county officials updated residents on the results of area water testing.

Many in attendance are cancer survivors who fear contaminants found in the tests could be linked to a growing number of cancer cases.

"When anything like this happens, you have to pay attention," said Brevard County District 4 Commissioner Curt Smith.

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Questions about the cancer cluster and water quality were brought back into the public eye by Dr. Julie Greenwalt, an oncologist and graduate of Satellite High School.

Greenwalt, a cancer survivor, spurred the testing with her research and has since verified more than 50 cases of rare cancers in Satellite Beach.

"I think the message right now is these chemicals are not safe," said Greenwalt at the meeting.

During the two-hour meeting, residents asked questions after learning some harmful chemicals detected in the city groundwater were determined to be present at safe levels.

"Are there any kind of statistics or (do you) any kind of measure or even consider what they would have been when I was 10 playing in this water?" asked one resident.

Brevard Public Schools said Friday that test results indicate that the drinking water at 13 of its schools is safe to drink.

The chemicals were found in dangerous concentrations in well water at Patrick Air Force Base and are believed to be linked to firefighting foam, assistant superintendent Matt Reed said.

Traces of a less toxic chemical, perfluorobutyrate, also known as PFBA, was found at nine schools served by the city of Melbourne water utility, but the chemical is at levels well below recommended safety limits, Reed said. Its source is unknown.

"Out of caution, BPS has shared its results and sought a second opinion from the state Department of Health in Tallahassee," Reed said. "It also will retest one water sample and test two additional samples from Satellite High, which showed a slightly higher trace amount of PFBA than at other beachside schools, including neighboring DeLaura Middle and Holland Elementary."

The school district said traces of PFOA and PFOS were discovered in recent city tests of well water in Satellite Beach and Cocoa Beach.

"Schools use well water only to irrigate sports fields, usually at night," Reed said. "BPS has sought guidance from the Florida Department of Health on whether to change irrigation practices to protect student-athletes, coaches and spectators."

Brevard County School Board Vice Chairman Tina Descovich, who grew up in Satellite Beach, said she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2010.

"I woke up this morning (and came) into this meeting with a lot of anxiety, with real concerns," she said. "It's a relief for sure."

She and others have publicly questioned whether their illnesses amount to a cancer cluster and whether it might be linked to chemicals in the water.

The Florida Health Department hasn't determined if rates of cancer are significantly higher among beachside residents and if contaminants in water are connected, the school district said.

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The drinking water at the following schools was tested:

South Patrick Shores

Sea Park Elementary School

Satellite Beach

Satellite High School

DeLaura Middle School

Holland Elementary School

Surfside Elementary School

Cocoa Beach

Cocoa Beach Jr./Sr. High School

Freedom 7 Elementary School

Roosevelt Elementary School

Cape Canaveral

Cape View Elementary School

Indian Harbor Beach

Ocean Breeze Elementary School

Indialantic

Hoover Middle School

Indialantic Elementary School

Melbourne Beach

Gemini Elementary School