Harmful Chemicals in Florida's Indian River Lagoon and Wildlife

Forever Chemicals in the Indian River Lagoon

In Brevard County, Florida, some of the nation's highest detections of harmful chemicals were found at Department of Defense bases and aerospace industry sites. These cancer-causing chemicals were at levels higher than the Environmental Protection Agencies' (EPA) safety limit of 70 parts per trillion.

PFAS are not known to break down in the environment and have become global pollutants threatening people and wildlife. Once in our bodies, they stick around - with half-lives in people of up to eight years. These chemicals never break down and build up in our blood and organs; they are often known as "forever chemicals."

The Department of Defense used aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) during training, where PFAS exposure was inevitable. They knew these toxic "forever chemicals" were harmful to the environment and human health in the 1970s but continued to use the foam. The EPA also knew these chemicals were toxic since 1998 and failed to protect the environment. These chemical compounds are being found in waterways surrounding the industries that use them.

After the Department of Defense released its sampling report in early 2018, communities learned that per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) were detected in groundwater and drinking water throughout Brevard County.

NASA also identified this contamination of emerging concern in groundwater at the Kennedy Space Center that exceeded federal standards.

Lagoon on the way to Playalinda Beach with NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) in the background hidden by clouds

PFAS is not only in the Indian River Lagoon, but wildlife's blood at the space center tested at the highest levels of toxic fluorinated chemicals ever measured in the species. 

The family of PFAS contains more than 4,000 compounds. Their persistence means they can cycle through soils and water without breaking down and building up in fish. Some PFAS can also biomagnify or become more concentrated as they move up the food chain, leading to higher exposures to people and fish-eating wildlife.

Florida does not have fish consumption advisories for PFAS. These chemicals are linked to a wide range of health effects, such as a weaker immune system, cancer, heart defect, increased cholesterol levels, liver and kidney damage, reduced fertility, and increased risk of thyroid disease. 

At Titusville's Veterans Memorial Fishing Pier shrimping late at night. 

Top toxicologists suggest that the limit for PFOA in drinking water should be as low as 0.1 parts per trillion based on rat studies investigating the development of pancreatic tumors from exposure. The National PFAS Contamination Coalition (NPCC) wants PFAS to be managed as one chemical class based on a peer-reviewed article authored by 16 of the nation's leading scientists published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters. The EPA's unenforceable limit isn't protective to human health. 

In 2020, Fight For Zero partnered with the University of Florida (UF) on a three-year study to better understand PFAS contamination in the Indian River Lagoon and how these chemicals move during weather events. Our organization was the first to begin educating communities across Florida about this invisible danger. 

Weekly surface samples have been taken from the Indian River Lagoon since the beginning of 2021. These samples are handled by trained volunteer citizen scientists across the county from the lagoon, Banana River, and other connecting waterways. 

Additional sampling for lab analysis has taken place to include drinking water, soil, and fish tissues. We have allied with other organizations like Ocean Research and Conservation Association (ORCA) to support their efforts in collecting data related to the accumulation of toxins in fish and Environmental Education Awareness Research Support and Services (EEARSS) to support alligators toxicology research. 

Dissecting fish during ORCA's fish processing workshop to help get samples in for lab analysis.

Below are some photos and video documentation of the start of the three-year project with Fight For Zero and the University of Florida. You can learn more by visiting www.fight4zero.org/ufproject

Misti Blu Day took surface water samples from the Indian River Lagoon today as a part of the collaborative research project with the University of Florida and other community partners gathering data on PFAS chemicals.

Cocoa Beach High School student taking samples from the Banana River across from Patrick Space Force Base

90's cancer cluster survivor and Satellite High School graduate taking samples in the Banana River across from where she went to school

Fight For Zero's Vice President, Jeff, taking samples from the river on a day where thick foam accumulated
Fight For Zero volunteer helping take surface water samples for PFAS analysis at the University of Florida

Executive Director, Stel Bailey, paddleboarding in the Indian River Lagoon with her daughter to take numerous samples

Photography taken by Stel Bailey of the Banana River

Fight For Zero highlighted with News Channel 13 for the work we are doing on PFAS contamination with the University of Florida

Fight For Zero encourages volunteers to take images of the locations from where they take water samples from and to submit them. This helps youth scientists to practice photography, document water clarity, and gives them a special appreciation for our ecosystem. This was taken by Chase

Teaching volunteers how to take surface water samples and do field blanks

Another beautiful day while sampling

Every week surface water samples are taken to help collect data before our next major storm event. High levels of PFAS recently showed up in Cocoa Beach sewage, South Patrick Shores soil, and were detected in drinking water systems (Titusville, Melbourne, Palm Bay). Visit www.fight4zero.org

ORCA: https://www.teamorca.org/fish-monitoring.html

EEARSS: https://eearss.org/about-us/

Department of Defense PFAS Timeline: https://www.ewg.org/dodpfastimeline/

Toxicologist Limit Suggestion: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6154935-PFOA-Chronic-Summary.html

PFAS as a Class: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.estlett.0c00255

Want to collaborate? Email stelbailey@gmail.com The photographs contained on this site, stelbailey.com domain, are the property of Stel Bailey and are protected by the United States and international copyright laws. All copyright, trademark, and other intellectual property rights on this site, are the property of Stel Bailey.