NJ school cancer fears ‘overblown’ — test results negative, health officials cast doubt
WOODBRIDGE — The results of radon and radiation testing at Colonia High School found no evidence of a cancer cluster or a connection to over 100 brain tumors among graduates and former staff.
Mayor John McCormac, state Department of Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli, and other officials will make the announcement at a press conference at the school Thursday at 4 p.m.
The announcement bolsters doubts that at least one researcher and the state's top health official had about the cancer cluster claims, according to copies of Persichilli's communications exclusively obtained by New Jersey 101.5.
New Jersey 101.5 first reported that Woodbridge was conducting radon and radiological testing at Colonia High School. Since then, a small but vocal group of parents has demanded immediate state intervention and an option for remote learning.
The results of the testing will be sent to members of Woodbridge Council and school officials shortly before the press conference.
State Department of Environmental Protection officials will also recommend that no further testing is necessary, the source said.
Persichilli was not convinced of any connection back in early May, when she responded to retired neurosurgeon Dr. Anthony Chiurco.
Chiurco, who served as the former chief of neurosurgery at University Medical Center of Princeton for over 30 years, asserted that the number of brain tumors identified so far among the Colonia community was not higher than expected.
Almost all of the recorded brain tumors have been among people who attended or taught at Colonia from around 1970 to 2000. Officials in Woodbridge believe an estimated 13,000 to 15,000 students and staff walked the halls during that time.
"Approximately 115 brain tumors over a 30-year period among 15,000 population equates to 0.76% which is compatible with the incidence in the general population," Chiurco wrote.
Since Chiurco's initial analysis, the number of reported brain tumors has risen to 121 as of May 7. However, the minor increase did not change Chiurco's conclusions.
Persichilli told Chiurco his work mirrored the findings of the state Department of Health.
"Thanks so much for this. It is similar to the analysis we have done at the Department of Health," Persichilli wrote. "Would you mind if I sent this onto the State Epidemiologist and our cancer research team?"
New Jersey 101.5 reached out to the state Department of Health and Persichilli for comment.
Chiurco told New Jersey 101.5 that the concerns surrounding Colonia High School had "gotten out of hand."
"I think it is overblown," Chiurco said. "People are hysterical over this."
Chiurco added that fears from the community have overshadowed the fact that there is still no evidence connecting Colonia to the brain tumor cases.
“It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble, but what you know for sure that just ain't so," Chiurco said, quoting Mark Twain.
Flouting the expectations of many, Chiurco said last week that he did not expect the testing results to bring anything unusual to light.
The retired neurosurgeon added that only ionizing radiation and genetic factors have been shown to have a link to brain tumors. Chiurco noted other rumored causes including cell phones and pesticides "have not withstood unequivocal scientific evidence."
But Colonia graduate Al Lupiano, who first investigated the possible brain tumor connection, had said that he expected to find ionizing radiation. Lupiano said in a Facebook post before the test results were released that he wants further testing and believed it would reveal contaminated fill.
"Only when we take air and soil samples will we be able to find a link," Lupiano said.
Lupiano did not immediately return a request for comment on Thursday.
Lupiano's claims made national headlines after New Jersey 101.5 first reported that Lupiano was investigating a seemingly high number of brain tumors among graduates and former staff at the high school in Woodbridge.
Lupiano began investigating following the death of his sister. A fellow graduate of Colonia, Angela DeCillis died in February from a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer known as Grade 4 glioblastoma multiforme.
Along with his sister's cancer, Lupiano and his wife Michele were both diagnosed with acoustic neuromas. An acoustic neuroma is a non-cancerous brain tumor that can leave afflicted patients with hearing loss, issues balancing, and other symptoms.