Murphy: ‘We absolutely have concern’ about potential Colonia High School cancer cluster
State health officials say that they plan to work with the federal government to find out the cause of a possible cancer cluster linked to Colonia High School.
Gov. Phil Murphy said on Monday that his administration wants to get to the bottom of the cause.
The state Department of Environmental Protection says it has partnered with the federal Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry to do an assessment of the site.
Murphy commented for the first time on the situation during a Monday news conference at state police headquarters.
“We absolutely have concern. I don't know that we know enough yet to be definitive in terms of causation etc. But I know for sure the tragedy that many lives are going through have some nexus to the Colonia High School, so that's something we take very seriously,” Murphy said.
The situation first came to light after Colonia High School alumnus Al Lupiano identified at least 104 former students and staff who suffered from rare brain tumors and cancer. Lupiano, his wife and his sister are among those affected.
Most of the people impacted attended the school between the early 1970s and 2000. Some, including Lupiano’s sister, have died.
Investigators were on scene this past weekend trying to detect radiation on the grounds of the school. They were also looking for radon and radiation levels inside the school - all of which could lead to genetic mutations that could cause rare cancers.
Dr. Rob Laumbach of Rutgers School of Public Health says that it is always possible that in any large population of people, there will be instances of tumors and cancers.
"It doesn't rule out there isn't some cause, it's just means that we have to be careful that we're not drawing lines around areas of locations and times when there’s randomly an increase in incidents of cancer," he says.
Laumbach also says that there could be natural sources for radiation and radon near the school.
“It’s one of those public health issues that is often overlooked because it’s natural,” he says.
Woodbridge Mayor John MacCormac said this weekend that there was no indication of there being anything wrong with the school building or ongoing health concerns for current students.
"For most cancers, and that would include brain cancers for example, in most cases we don’t know what the cause was," Laumbach says.
Preliminary results from the emergency studies could take a month or more to come back.