New Jersey

NJ Parents Demand Swifter Action in School Cancer Probe After 100+ Brain Tumors Diagnosed

More than 100 former Colonia High School students and staff over a 30-year period have been diagnosed with cancer and local parents say the information they're getting on the investigation is woefully insufficient

Aerial view of Colonia High School in Colonia, New Jersey.
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More than 200 people have signed an online petition demanding a public meeting with state officials in New Jersey and federal authorities over concerns about a medical mystery at a high school following dozens of diagnoses of brain tumors.

Every inch of Colonia High School, part of the Woodbridge Township School District, from buildings to fields, is being tested for radiation to determine if there is a link between the school and the number of cancer cases diagnosed amongst former students and staff. But, according to the petition launched Tuesday, complete results aren't even anticipated to be received until the end of May.

The school has stayed open, with local officials apparently telling parents that "at this time, there is no discernable health or wellness threat to students, staff, or visitors at Colonia High School," according to the petition writers.

That, the "concerned Colonia High School parents, alumni, and township members" petitioning on behalf of their school community say, isn't acceptable.

"We appreciate the NJDOH, NJDEP, ATSDR, and CDC assistance to the Woodbridge Township’s environmental investigation that is currently ongoing, but strongly believe that this is not enough," the petition says in seeking the involvement of more state and federal agencies. "The agencies acknowledged their concerns regarding the potential cancer cluster, but are not conducting any testing aside from radiation and radon that the Township undertook, even though the school remains open. Because the school remains open, we demand greater urgency to find out if potentially harmful substances are harming our children and staff at Colonia High School."

Al Lupiano, a graduate of the high school, believes there's a link between Colonia High School and brain tumors diagnosed in 108 people over a period of three decades, ending in the early 2000s.

"If we can enrich science by showing that an unknown compound is in high concentration and link it to primary brain tumors, maybe we can protect others, remove it from our environment to make sure it never happens again," he said.

Lupiano, who is also an environmental scientist, and his wife Michelle -- both graduates of the high school -- were diagnosed with benign brain tumors 20 years apart. Lupiano's sister, also a graduate of the high school, died recently from brain cancer.

Despite the number of cases, officials first have to determine if scientific evidence indeed indicates a connection between the school grounds and the brain tumors.

Parents like Dawn Genoni are willing to wait for those results -- at least at the time Genoni spoke to News 4 last month.

"I have full faith they will get to the bottom of this and they will figure out what is going on," she said at the time.

But patience appears to be wearing thin among some in the community, judging by the petition. Others told they want a remote learning option until the investigation is complete. More say the information flow is sorely lacking.

"It is not enough to address parents of operating school with suspected cancer cluster through written statements given to media outlets," the petition said. "We and our children deserve more! When children’s health and lives are at stake, we have a right to demand your full attention and transparency."

The city of Woodbridge has been taking the lead on that front, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for testing at a school that graduated roughly 15,000 people over the last 30 years.

"One hundred out of 15,000 have brain cancer -- sure sounds like something we should be concerned about," Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac has said.

Gov. Phil Murphy told the possible brain tumor cluster was disturbing but stressed it was too soon to make definitive conclusions about the cause.

"We absolutely have concerns,” the Democrat told "I don’t know that we know enough yet to be definitive in terms of causation, et cetera."

Ultimately, if it isn’t a radiation source that is causing these illnesses, Lupiano says other tests can be done to pinpoint a cause.

"This is only the tip of the iceberg. This is only one of many, many tests that can be performed. Frequently, in hazmat, you never find it in the first shot," Lupiano said.

Copyright NBC New York
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