University of Florida soon to unveil results from 'forever' chemical study in Brevard

Jim Waymer
Florida Today
Patrick Space Force Base had been using fire extinguishing foams that included perflourinated chemicals that researchers now say are linked to some kinds of cancer and other illnesses.

University of Florida researchers plan on June 23 to reveal the first round of their test results of long-lived chemicals suspected of causing widespread groundwater and soil contamination throughout the Space Coast.

UF and its community partners will hold their first Community Conference on Coastal Communities and Resilience to PFAS online. High levels of PFAS — short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — turned up recently in Cocoa Beach sewage, South Patrick Shores soil and groundwater, and in drinking water systems statewide. And more sample results will be presented at UF's event.

"We want to understand how these pollutants could get to people," said Eric Coker, assistant professor at UF's Department of Environmental and Global Health.

High levels of 'Forever' chemicals soil South Patrick and Cocoa Beach

By the way:Contaminants removed from Melbourne housing complex, but some neighbors skeptical

During the free online conference on June 23, UF will unveil what it's found thus far in the first year of a first-of-its-kind three-year PFAS case study in Brevard County.

The study aims to examine what happens to the chemicals in coastal areas after hurricanes and other severe storms. Where do they go? Do they migrate or wash out to sea?

The work is funded by an almost $800,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

According to a UF writeup about the grant, the overall goal of the project is to understand how hurricane-induced flooding distributes PFAS in the environment, and how societal factors can worsen health impacts of exposure.

First, the researchers will characterize the types of PFAS and their concentrations in water, soil, sediments  and biological samples before and immediately after a flood. Second, they'll create a simulation model to forecast PFAS transport and risk exposure of different communities after floods. Then, they plan to build community resilience to reduce exposure and possible health effects of PFAS.

"A key innovation of our proposed research is the integration and application of knowledge from different disciplines," Katherine Delis Quinones, UF research assistant professor, wrote about the grant. "This study will be the first to implement a Holistic Environmental Health Research Model, which considers natural, social and built environments to assess transport of emergent pollutant and their risk exposure."

Five volunteers in Titusville, Rockledge, Merritt Island, Melbourne and Satellite Beach helped collect water samples from the lagoon. 

"We are eager for the conference to take place and relieved to have these partnerships," said Stel Bailey, chief executive director of the nonprofit Fight For Zero. 

"We sample the same day, around the same time, at the exact location every week and hope to continue doing so until a tropical storm or hurricane comes," Bailey said. "Our communities want the power of knowing what’s in the water."

Ocean Research & Conservation Association, a scientific based conservation nonprofit, has been heading up the samples of fish tissues. Volunteers turn in fish to their drop-off location and continue helping promote their fish monitoring project, and plan to have some fishing days to gather more samples. 

On Tuesday last week, U.S. Sens. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., introduced the Clean Water for Military Families Act and the Filthy Fifty Act, directing the Department of Defense to identify and clean up PFAS at U.S. military installations with some of the highest levels. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., will introduce both measures in the House.

The Filthy Fifty Act lists Patrick Space Force Base, the Naval Air Station, Jacksonville and Tyndall Air Force Base, east of Panama City, among 50 "priority installations" with the highest PFAS levels that must step up PFAS cleanups.

Community Conference on Coastal Communities and Resilience to PFAS

What: A free online community conference open to the public, focusing on PFAS in Florida's coastal communities, including updates about ongoing community-engaged research projects in Brevard County. 

When: 2 to 6 p.m. June 23 

How to register: Visit https://tinyurl.com/coastalPFAS

Agenda: 

  • 2 to 2:30 p.m. : Opening Keynote Address: Robert W. Bowcock, founder of Integrated Resource Management Inc. Bowcock advises environmental activist Erin Brockovich on water-quality issues.
  • 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.: UF research team overview of EPA-funded PFAS project in Brevard.
  • 3:45 to 4:45 p.m.: Community-led presentations: Fight For Zero; Jacksonville Gullah Geechee Nation Community Development Corp.; Ocean Research & Conservation Association Inc.; panel discussion from concerned citizens and citizen scientists
  • 4 to 6 p.m.: Open community forum