Groundwater study unclear on cancer concerns

A state Department of Health study of groundwater showed no evidence of contaminants that would cause an official “cancer cluster” in Satellite Beach and South Patrick Shores but did point to an overall higher instance of cancers in the area and on the mainland in the Suntree/Viera area.

The results completed April 30 were not a clean bill of health and left Satellite Beach officials with remaining questions about what the study actually means to community health, said City Manager Courtney Barker.

“We were very relieved to see that it wasn’t a cluster. What we’re struggling with now is how to interpret that report,’’ she said.

To that end, local politicians are officially requesting that the Department of Health hold a meeting on the barrier island — and perhaps another in Suntree/Viera — “to talk about what do they really mean,’’ she said.

Meanwhile, when beachside residents visit that very department’s website, they are greeted with a red caution sign icon alerting them of “Cancer Concerns in Zip Code 32937” and a link for more information on the groundwater issue, updated on May 2.

Some small increases in instances of certain types of cancer may not be statistically significant, but some findings might be more important, Barker said.

“Since we didn’t have enough (statistically significant findings), there’s not reason for them to study it further, the state determined. To me my biggest question is when they look at other communities, is this what they see? Is this a normal outcome?” Barker said.

While there have been discussions of other possible contaminants perhaps associated with military dumping, the only environmental contaminant found and identified so far is linked with fire-foam chemicals, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), she said.

“If we find another contaminant, of course the Health Department will research it, but until they find (another) reason, they are not going to do it. We’re never going to stop making sure the community is safe. If anybody brings us data that shows us something is wrong, we will continue to pursue it,” Barker said.

However, Satellite High grad and cancer survivor Dr. Julie Greenwalt, a Jacksonville oncologist, says the Department of Health study represents only an initial effort toward what could be a much larger environmental issue as evidenced by the many cancers reported to the health department during the last few months.

“It was a great first step to look at PFOS cancers in the cancer registry, but I will continue to ask them to look into the cases called in to the health department that are not in their registry,’’ she said.

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