A social media storm involving an Aug. 29 Facebook post by famous activist Erin Brockovich that was highly critical of Satellite Beach officials was sparked by a video of a decades-old debris field – later determined to be harmless – being unearthed in South Patrick Shores.
Brockovich reacted online after viewing what the city calls a “highly edited” video of a 55-gallon barrel later determined to be located outside the city and containing dirt.
The original post reads: “Satellite Beach & Brevard County, Florida. Will you please wake the hell up? The first step in solving a problem is admitting that you have one…This is a metal container… dug up in a yard in your community today. It is part of a landfill and toxic debris left behind by the Navy and then the Air Force. The Satellite Beach area of Brevard County’s entire barrio(sp) island is covered in this waste… vast unknowns.”
Brockovich continued, provoking more than 1,200 comments, “Digging up an old container, weapons system components… even old jeep and airplane parts is common place.”
“I am in communication with medical professionals concerned about the high rate of cancer in your community… you ignore them…,” she wrote, referring to the ongoing research and testing.
The post drew an immediate reaction from Satellite Beach City Manager Courtney Barker, who sent a personal letter dated Aug. 31 that blasted Brockovich for spreading disinformation and personal attacks.
“Your Facebook post claims that we ignore these claimed and implies that we are a part of a coverup, which is absolutely incorrect and defamatory,” Barker fired back.
Barker’s response cited a list of efforts and agencies now involved in a complex undertaking led by a local oncologist to determine if a cancer cluster has been caused by contamination from the nearby Patrick Air Force Base. She listed various efforts including the city paying for initial groundwater testing as soon as the original Department of Defense report came out and efforts for a longer-term “fact-based response” to concerns about contaminants possibly causing cancer clusters in the area.
One of the biggest challenges, according to the letter, is the dissemination of inaccurate information via social media including Facebook.
Barker requested that the Facebook post be retracted or further explained, specifically the “accusatory and derogatory language regarding our City Council and city staff and the location of the barrel outside the city.”
She concluded to Brockovich that it is hard to form a partnership when the initial post described the council as “pathetic” and Barker’s credibility as “in the toilet.”
A long-time fan of Brockovich and her public health advocacy, Barker wrote that the post was “shocking” and “disappointing” and “comes across as a bullying tactic rather than an effort to engage in professional dialogue to work together toward solutions.”
Satellite Beach Councilwoman Mindy Gibson also jumped up to defend the city against Brockovich’s accusations. “I read this last night and was shocked and disappointed that a person whom at one point in my life I looked at as a hero in this arena, would not have contacted us directly and offered her help or even advice having been through this before,” Gibson said.
On Aug. 30 Brockovich posted a follow-up: “I try very hard to stay out of local politics… which I am afraid is hard to do. My post was clearly written from a position of frustration with the scores of emails I have received about the historical contamination issues in the greater “Satellite Beach area”. I am encouraged by the response and believe there will be some positive outcomes from the attention called to the situation. Unfortunately… people are reading what they want into the post from their individual political positions… which is unfortunate.”
Barker confirmed that Brockovich’s staff confirmed that she will visit Satellite Beach, probably within about a month.