School Board joins chorus calling for groundwater testing

The School Board has joined the list of local government organizations asking the state to regulate and test for a series of chemicals recently found in groundwater, well water and irrigation water in some beachside communities.

The chemicals all belong to a large group of compounds known collectively as polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. The substances have been found in alarming amounts at nearby Patrick Air Force Base, and are believed to have come from firefighting foam. They have been found in smaller amounts in Satellite Beach and Cocoa Beach.

The board passed a resolution on Sept. 6 requesting definitive regulatory standards and guidance from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection regarding how PFAS should be addressed. The resolution called upon the state to test groundwater, bodies of water and fish for the chemicals, and to create regulatory guidelines for the presence of the chemicals in any water used for drinking, irrigation and recreation, as well as in consumable fish.

“We need to be able to know from experts what is safe,” board member Tina Descovich said in an interview after the resolution was passed.

Currently, there are no national regulatory standards or formal testing protocol on PFAS chemicals. The Environmental Protection Agency issued a report in April saying that those processes are being developed and should be completed by early 2019. A few states have issued their own regulations, but Florida has not.

Descovich initiated the idea of the resolution. Not only does her School Board seat represent several beachside communities, she is also an alumna of Satellite High and was diagnosed with cancer in 2010.

One of her children is also currently a student at Satellite.

Descovich said the School Board, the cities of Satellite Beach and Cocoa Beach, and the County Commission are all passing identical resolutions and will present them to the state together.

Satellite Beach passed the resolution on Sept. 5. The city is also conducting further tests on area groundwater.

Concerned citizens have been trying for years to get someone to take notice of what they say are higher than usual cancer rates in the area, especially among Satellite High graduates and those who lived nearby. The county health department is now compiling a list of those cases to determine if the area might have a “cancer cluster.”

A different chemical, perfluorobutyrate (PFBA), was found in trace amounts in the drinking water at all nine public schools in South Patrick Shores, Satellite Beach, Indian Harbour Beach, Indialantic and Melbourne Beach. The drinking water at those schools comes from the city of Melbourne utilities. It does not come from adjacent wells or groundwater.

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