NJ district tests Colonia HS soil, air again amid renewed cancer concerns
WOODBRIDGE — Results from new environmental testing done at Colonia High School are expected within the coming weeks after parents concerned about a possible cancer cluster took matters into their own hands last month.
Superintendent Joseph Massimino wrote in a letter to parents last week that environmental testers with T&M Associates collected around 150 soil samples from around the school grounds in Woodbridge over the fall break. They also took and tested air quality samples from classrooms, stairwells, hallways, bathrooms, and common areas this past weekend.
"The fact that sampling is being conducted should not, in and of itself, be considered a cause for concern," Massimino said.
One month ago, a mother conducted independent testing in dust, caulk, and soil for polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, and pesticides. Edyta Komorek, who has been an environmental scientist since 2006, told NJ.com she found evidence of highly toxic chemicals and alerted school officials.
“I just felt like there were a lot of unanswered questions regarding the school,” Komorek said. “I didn’t feel that my kids were safe there until actual soil, groundwater and air samples were collected — and nobody wanted to do it.”
It comes as some concerns linger that the school could be connected to more than 100 reported brain tumors among former students and staff.
A spokesperson for Mayor John McCormac's office did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Cancer links to PCBs and pesticides
On Oct. 17, Department of Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli and Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette sent a letter to McCormac and Massimino admitting that the levels of PCBs and pesticides in the independent testing's findings were "excessive."
According to the EPA, PCBs have been linked to rare liver cancers. However, the commissioners contested that the results showed a causal relationship with brain cancers.
"PCBs and pesticides are not sources of the ionizing radiation most associated with the occurrence of primary brain tumors, nor would these materials have been detected during the previously conducted radiological survey," the commissioners said. They added that the chemicals "do not appear to present an immediate exposure risk."
"Although the newly reported presence of PCBs and pesticides may require further environmental evaluation, it is not necessarily a cause for immediate alarm."
Persichilli and LaTourette also said that PCBs are common in older buildings and were used widely before they were banned in 1979. They suggested that remediating the soil around the school may be appropriate.
Colonia HS tests again as cancer fears remain
This is not the first time T&M Associates has conducted testing at the school. The consultants left radon canisters at Colonia for two weeks in April and took radiation measurements from the building and surrounding grounds.
In May, LaTourette, Persichilli, McCormac, and other officials announced that the results showed no evidence of a connection to cancers among former staff and students.
“No radiological hazards have been identified that warrant further investigation,” Persichilli said. McCormac called it "terrific news."
At the time, testing focused on finding evidence of ionizing radiation. Retired neurosurgeon Dr. Anthony Chiurco told New Jersey 101.5 in May that only ionizing radiation and genetic factors had been linked to brain tumors.
"I think it is overblown," Chiurco said. He noted that the rate of reported brain tumors among former staff and students was not more than expected for the general population, which state officials corroborated.