WOODBRIDGE – The township has approved an emergency contract of $221,350 for an engineering firm to conduct radiological assessments at Colonia High School, following a 1989 graduate’s research indicating a possible link between the school and brain tumor cases among former students and staff.
T&M Associates of Middletown and its team of environmentalists are scheduled to begin collecting data at the high school this weekend by placing radon canisters throughout the building to collect indoor air samples, according to township officials. The work will be done in cooperation with Woodbridge Township School District.
“It’s too important. We’re just doing it,” said Mayor John E. McCormac.
The canisters do not pose any danger and do not emit any substance and are routinely used in homes, businesses and schools to collect radon measurements, township officials said. They will remain in place for 14 days before being sent to a lab for analysis.
A report outlining results is expected in about a month, McCormac said.
“I hope the results come back with absolutely nothing,” he said.
T&M Associates has already started conducting historic site research to obtain records related to the school’s construction in 1967 to today. In addition, T&M and Cabrera Services Inc, a radiological and environmental remediation company, will acquire real time radiation measurements from the interior and exterior of the building as part of an intensive survey of all 28 acres of the Colonia High School property.
“We got the state and federal agencies involved, and we’re starting some testing of the grounds and the air this weekend,” McCormac said.
The township and school district have had discussions and meetings with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the state Department of Health, the state Department of Environmental Protection and U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone’s Office.
Last month McCormac and Superintendent of Schools Joseph Massimino became aware of health-related concerns reported on social media about a potential connection between Colonia High School and graduates who have developed brain tumors.
McCormac said he was very concerned to learn of the possible link.
“It seems like in a little over a 20-year period to have 65 people on a list is somewhat alarming, it’s quite alarming,” said the mayor, who lives just blocks away from Colonia High School, but added the link only appears to pertain to people who attended or worked at the high school. “But I understand why anyone would be concerned.”
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McCormac said residents are expressing concerns and the township is working to keep everyone updated. He said the site was vacant land until the school was built in 1967, so he believes there is little chance anything was in the ground before then, but if there is anything on site it could have come from fill during the construction phase.
The township has filed an Open Public Records Act request with the state Department of Education to get its files from 55 years ago when the school was built, the mayor said.
In early March, Al Lupiano, 50, of Jamesburg, a 1989 Colonia High School graduate, posted on Facebook that his 44-year-old sister, Angela DeCillis, a 1995 Colonia High School graduate, died in February from a rare, highly aggressive malignant glioma brain tumor on the left side of her brain, that had been diagnosed in August 2021.
The same day his sister was diagnosed, his wife, Michele, a 1991 Colonia High School graduate, was diagnosed with a large acoustic neuroma, a rare brain tumor which is life-threatening if left untreated. In 1999 when Lupiano was 27, he too was diagnosed with a large acoustic neuroma on the left side of his brain.
Both his wife and sister were assigned the same doctor for treatment. Discussions with that doctor about the rarity of three family members all being diagnosed with brain tumors led to Lupiano’s quest for more research because radiation exposure is a well-documented cause of brain tumors.
Lupiano began researching to see if other Woodbridge friends and family members had been diagnosed with brain tumors. He initially found 15 people, all Colonia High School graduates from around 1975 to 1995, had them, he said.
Since starting his research, Lupiano said that number has increased to about 90 people, including about 10 who were school staff members, some who worked in the cafeteria and others from the athletic department.
“I don’t know what the cause is,” Lupiano said.
But he made a promise to his late sister that he would find out.
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Suzanne Russell is a breaking news reporter for MyCentralJersey.com covering crime, courts and other mayhem. To get unlimited access, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.