Is cancer spreading at a New Jersey high school? A scientist and mother is demanding answers after tests she conducted found cancer-causing toxins and materials were present at the school — where more than 100 former students have since been diagnosed with brain tumors.
Edyta Komorek is a professional environmental scientist. So when officials declared earlier this year that ground penetrating radar tests on the grounds of Colonia High School concluded there was no dangerous or carcinogenic radiation there, she took matters into her own hands.
"I wasn't happy and I knew that they didn't do enough sampling, didn't test soil, groundwater tests for PCBs," Komorek said.
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She went inside the school in August to swipe dust samples from a bathroom, and returned a month later collecting samples outdoors, soil from the ground and caulk from a school window. She sent them to independent laboratories and says the results were alarming.
“The analysis can back with PCBs above federal and state standards as well as pesticides that were banned in 1988," she said.
PCBs are Polychlorinated biphenyls, otherwise known as highly carcinogenic chemical compounds — the production of which has been banned since 1979.
All the testing, both by Komorek and the district, came after 108 people from over a period of three decades ending in the early 2000s who attended the school were diagnosed with brain tumors. The Township of Woodbridge took the lead in the investigation, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for testing at a school that graduated roughly 15,000 people over the last 30 years.
The town announced in May that there were no traces of radioactivity found in the school.
"If we saw anything that said the school or the grounds were not safe, we would do something instantly. And that’s not the case. Everything that was found is normal." said Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac. "My thoughts are we should look into it, but it's what you would expect if you texted caulking from a building built in the 1960s. It's going to have PCBs, they all do. And the soil was right below where the caulking is."
McCormac said he has seen Komorek's findings and consulted with the superintendent of schools. He concedes no soil or dust samples were collected when the township conducted its own tests, but adds that Komorek’s findings need further validation.
"The results we have is not something the Department of Health, or DEP, or anyone, can rely on. They weren't taken by a licensed remediation specialist, so I assume our consultants are going to come up with a plan to do some testing, but it will be official by state and federal testing," the mayor said.
Whatever the city decides to do, Komorek said she hopes it goes beyond the tests they already performed.
"I’m not sure what they will propose, but I hope this is going to include comprehensive soil, ground, water (testing)," she said.
In the meantime, Komorek has taken her own two daughters out of Colonia High School, but the mayor cautions against calling it a cancer cluster.
"People have to stop using the word cancer cluster. They have to stop its not that, not going to be that. There are PCBs everywhere," he said.