Note: I was driving past Patrick Air Force Base on the way to meet my son and his group in their herculean attempt at cleaning up a beach side homeless camp and I was hit with memories of old friends in USAF who shared a brief time in Florida before being sent elsewhere on the planet.
Memories mostly good of my arrival in Central Florida, my first hurricane and visits/duty to other Florida Air Force Bases during my four years assigned to Patrick and the Cape. -A remote time before my years as a Pan Am World Services Diver and then a career at Kennedy Space Center.
Many of those memories were of good times spent in South Patrick Shores and the base housing south of the main base.
Forgive me for indulging in times long past.
Me with my hands up marveling at the tank.
On the left is my former roommate Ed, who was also hired as a Pan Am World Services diver.
Pollution in paradise?
Again in the local paper is the debate on the "cancer hot spots" in the community of South Patrick Shores (next to Patrick Air Force Base)
The base and housing development are located on an east coast barrier island bordered by the Atlantic to the east and the Banana River to the west.
A yard item found in South Patrick Shores during an irrigation project. (Home owner believes it is some type of a sprocket)
The Navy admits there was dump in the area of the South Patrick Shores. Banana River Naval Station.
Side view of the Sprocket?
Part from an engine from an Avenger Torpedo Bomber?
Do not know...
Warning, if not wanting to read my meandering drivel, please skip right to Fight for Zero to review some the pollution reports and cancer survivor stories around Patrick Air Force Base.
Scary & sad.
If you stayed........
When I was assigned to Patrick Air Force Base in the early 1980's the very same debate was raging: Cancer hot spots from polluted lands south of the main base in the area known as South Patrick Shores.
Military base housing was interlaced in this area with civilian housing and in fact some of the complaints of truly horrifying illnesses had come from both military dependents assigned to base housing and civilians who had made a permanent home south of the Air Force Base.
However the complaints from civilians living in South Patrick Shores were justifiably given more weight because military dependents were more transient in nature: Two to four year assignments to Patrick AFB-yet both civilian and military dependents made the local newspaper voicing their concerns & illnesses.
Site that used to be south of PAFB in the South Patrick Shores area
I was a young airman assigned to the 2179th E&I Squadron; my duty station was CCAFS, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and my barracks (sleep location) was PAFB.
An ironic twist of fate-when I joined the USAF I had requested to be stationed to the wilds of Alaska but was sent to the miserable alien hot lands of Florida.
Posting to Florida was disappointing but a curiosity because of the odd reaction of my fellow airmen to my Florida assignment. They were jealous!
Multiple people offered to trade assignments however none of the offers were to where I really wanted to be: Cold Alaska.
After completion of technical school in Texas, escaping the Lone Star state during a blizzard I arrived in a disgustingly humid Florida and a life time of sunburns.
I have to admit that at the time of the first South Patrick Shores debate of contaminated ground water and contaminated sandy soil in the areas south of PAFB; I was newly arrived in Florida and was far more interested in surfing and the plentiful yet skimpy local bikinis.
Although I dearly wanted the winters of the north, I was beginning to understand the jealousies of my fellow airman about the Florida assignment.
Despite the ah, attractions of Florida I did have some interest in the South Patrick Shore claims of contaminated soil and water because-well I soon had a tan girlfriend that lived in that very community.
But also because of having grown up in eastern Missouri near the abandoned Weldon Springs Ordnance Works and the almost secret debate in Missouri about contaminated ground water from uranium processing during the Cold War.
And in fact shortly after I joined the United States Air Force the area around Weldon Springs was declared a Superfund Site and so the start of a costly ten year remediation program that ended with the construction of a 40 acre containment dome. However that is another story.
Also I would be amiss not to mention my family's own ten year contamination battle after an pipeline spilled 68,000 gallons of death onto the family farm.
In sunny Florida-in between my interest in waves and the novelty of hurricanes- I did have nagging questions about the cancer hot spots; questions that were as relevant then -as well as today (almost 40 years later)
Simple questions about the drinking water and the landfill location.
Because the South Patrick Shores controversy was in the papers again after 40 years; I asked a space center co worker who was also stationed at Patrick AFB what he thought of the re emerged issue.
We both agreed that the drinking water for the base and surrounding communities had been piped across the Banana River from Lake Washington (part of the St Johns River) We both agreed with a laugh how terrible tasting the water had been.
And we both agreed that since the drinking water for South Patrick Shores was brought in from across the river -whatever was causing the potential spikes in cancers, odds were high it was not from contaminated drinking waters since most of costal Brevard County was drinking the same Lake Washington water.
That did not eliminate possible exposure from shallow well water-for example exposure from yard sprinklers. And of course it would be difficult to quantify how much exposure to yard sprinkler water was required to cause a health issue.
Note I suppose the issue of the drinking water not being related to the Cancer Hot Spots has been addressed because in the most recent newspaper article a person was suggesting that "vapors" were coming through a crack in the foundation of their house to cause the serious illnesses.
My other question related to the cancer spikes was the location of the land fill.
In a recent article the local paper printed a pre world war 2 aerial photograph that showed the newly cleared land for the Banana River Naval Station (now Patrick Air Force Base) and two oddly cleared areas south of PAFB. The newspaper article suggested these strips were cleared to be used for landfills.
Fight for Zero.org Interactive Map of cancer incidents south of Patrick Air Force Base.
Very intriguing observation however the two cleared areas could have also have also been used to store live explosive ordnance (bombs) away from the main base. (There was a war going on & if fact I was surprised to learn that ships had been attacked off the coast of Brevard County by German Submarines)
Regardless of what purpose the two strips were cleared for, the two locations south oh the main base matched exactly the area that came to be known as South Patrick Shores and the spike in cancers. Creepy coincidence?
The Navy now admits there was dump in the area of the South Patrick Shores
The "Other" Landfill Location:
However When I was stationed at PAFB: the landfill (the dump) was actually next to the runway (not south of the base in South Patrick Shores)
Of course I have no way of telling for how long the dump had been at the runway area known as "The Survival Area" but the landfill mound was big - my assumption based upon size estimate alone, was the dump had been in the survival area for twenty to thirty years.(silly wild guess)
That age of course does fit in well with the approximate age of the south Patrick shores housing development. Say for example the original dump had been south of the base and then relocated when the South Patrick Shores development was constructed
Nevertheless in the 1980's I remember questioning the so called hot spots south of the base and any relationship to the Survival area dump -the relationship was tenuous at best and in the 80's after I was discharged from the Air Force but still in the area; -the government released their first report claiming the cancer incidence in South Patrick was not higher than normal cancer rates for Central Florida.
Figured the issue was settled once and for all.
I of course was wrong about that.
What did disturb me back then was the active land fill location next to the Banana river (known on base as the Survival Area area)
Banana River Naval Station (a big player in the myth of the Bermuda Triangle because of the navy airplanes that disappeared after taking off from BRNS. However that is another story)
To this day while boating in the Banana River or kayaking the No Motor Zone of Kennedy Space Center you may come across the pre WW2 bombing targets
BRNS was an active training base. To facilitate the rescue of pilots who may have crashed into the Banana River a boat channel and inlet was cut from the dry soil of the barrier island and shallow Banana River. The dredged soil was thrown up to the side of the new channel to create a berm that protected the rescue boats from both errant hurricanes and the more common summer squalls tossed up by the east coast sea breeze.
At some point in the past someone decided this berm on the river's edge was the perfect location for a dump.
Banana River & Indian River Lagoon dying
Disturbing location for a dump
To this day I do not know where the name "Survival Area" comes from but when I arrived in Florida the area was many things- a dump/landfill, a local party spot and even a manatee observation area. (My first sighting of this gentle sea cows)
However even I could question the wisdom of the dump being on a spit of land, A peninsula. Chemicals were being dumped directly into the river and trash/waste was piled right up to the edge of the Banana River. The only thing missing were sea trout and sea turtles going belly up in the channel.
I cannot speak for how long the Survival Area Dump was active or how many or what chemicals were injected directly into the ecosystem. But I do recall even as a young airman, the dump location was stupid.
A recent study of the muck bottom of the Banana River showed wide spread contamination of certain chemicals and I winced at the possible responsibility of the USAF dump on the river.
Before I wind this up:
I had another interesting talk with co-worker whose father was first stationed at Patrick when the base changed from a Navy Base to an Air Force Base. And then his father retired at Patrick Air Force Base.
This retired NCO liked to sarcastically point out that in the 1950's the dump for Patrick AFB was moved from the rented land "off base property" where the Navy had contracted to dispose of their wastes to "on base property" the current beautiful and popular Base Golf Course!
By the time of my tenure at Patrick the Golf Couse was shinny sward and the dump as mentioned was the survival area west of the runway.
In conclusion......Cannot say if anyone will ever be satisfied with the test results about this debate.
The Federal Government, the Navy and Air Force would like nothing better that for the subject to go away.
While the concerned citizens who live in South Patrick Shores or the old base housing area have every right to be concerned about the health of their families and perhaps the unmentioned specter of property values.
My concerns: while my heart goes out to the families of South Patrick Shores, my heart is also breaking at the slow death of the Indian River Lagoon (which includes the Banana River around Patrick AFB) -This would include not only the current deadly algae blooms but also any chemicals leeching into the river from the old Patrick AFB dump/landfill.
(Disclaimer-I have not been back to the "Survival Area" since I completed my tour in the USAF. So the area may have been cleaned up, remediated-I just do not know. I am fairly certain that PAFB like Kennedy Space Center now trucks their waste to the Cocoa Landfill-but even that is a complete guess. (Much like the outcome of the South Patrick Shores mystery.)
Page still under Construction (searching for my USAF photos)
Newly discovered documents about a dump leased by the Navy
-The base operated a 25-acre "dump and destroy" area, between Ocean Boulevard to the north, Clairbourne Avenue to the South, Pelican Drive to the west and Highway A1A to the east.
-Beginning in 1942, a newly assigned Public Works Officer found out the Navy had not negotiated with the owner or real estate agent about the use of the property. So he contacted Gus C. Edwards, the Cocoa real estate agent representing the property owner, to ask for permission. "I see no reason why there can be any objection to this," Edwards reportedly stated on Oct. 15, 1942.
-According to the Public Works Officer, "the restoration of the privately owned dump property became a matter of major concern as literally anything and everything had been dumped in the area in violation of the conditional consent of Mr. Edwards which restricted dumping to burnable materials only." They burned and buried rubble, trash and other items to a depth of eight to 10 feet and covering it with six feet of soil, then bulldozed over it.
-The Navy transferred the base to the Air Force in the summer of 1948, and on Aug. 1, 1950 it was renamed Patrick Air Force Base.
Return Home from Contamination in South Patrick Shores Page
My book on Florida history:
Struggle for the northern frontier and other lost tales of old Florida