Frank Pallone calls for more action on Colonia High School brain tumor cluster investigation
WOODBRIDGE — An influential environmental voice in the U.S. House of Representatives says not enough is being done at the state level to investigate a possible brain tumor cluster at Colonia High School.
“The questions raised by local advocates and families require serious scrutiny from health and environmental experts, which is exactly why I personally convened state and federal agencies on April 4 and asked them to investigate these serious concerns," U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-NJ, said Thursday. Pallone is the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
New Jersey 101.5 first broke the story in late March of a possible connection between the school grounds and dozens of brain tumors among former staff and graduates. Since then, concerns among the Woodbridge community have earned the attention of national media, Gov. Phil Murphy, Pallone, and state and federal agencies.
Those concerns among locals have only grown over the last five weeks. In response, some have sent an "urgent" letter to Murphy, Pallone, and other state officials.
The letter was signed by 71 parents, alumni, and township residents, according to the parent of a student at CHS. It comes after Superintendent Joseph Massimino informed the community that he did not have the power to create a remote learning option.
"Our children and Colonia High School staff deserve more involvement of the State and Federal agencies," the letter said. "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."
Spokesperson Mary Werden confirmed that Pallone's office received the letter. The representative agrees with their sense of urgency.
Pallone said Woodbridge is "lucky" to have Mayor John McCormac for his efforts to secure environmental testing at the local level.
New Jersey 101.5 first reported that Woodbridge hired a consultant to test the grounds in early April. The results of those radon and radiation tests are expected later this month.
But Pallone called out agencies at the state and federal levels.
"So far, the experts have provided the community with important scientific consultation, but I still have not seen enough action," Pallone said.
“We still need environmental research to see if there is evidence for concern. We also need to verify reported cancer cases and determining based on the specific timing, type, and frequency if they are statistically higher than normal rates."
Pallone said he has called on state agencies to take two specific steps. While he can call for action, Pallone is a federal representative and has limited legal authority over state agencies.
First, Pallone wants the state Department of Environmental Protection to fully reimburse Woodbridge for the costs of the radon and radiation testing. The cost was $221,350, according to a resolution approved by Woodbridge Council. He also wants the state agency to lead and pay for any future testing.
Next, Pallone is calling for the state Department of Health to collect data on recorded cases and verify the information. This would likely mean reaching out to Al Lupiano, the CHS graduate who first investigated a possible connection between the cancer and the school.
"There’s a reason the state has a cancer registry and epidemiologists," Pallone said. "It is my understanding that the state has agreed to work with Mayor McCormac to create a portal to collect the necessary information."
Lupiano began investigating a possible connection between the school and a high number of brain tumors. He started in February after the death of his sister, a fellow CHS graduate, from a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer.
The former EPA emergency responder and his wife Michele, also an alumnus, both developed brain tumors as well.
As of April 21, Lupiano said the number of brain tumors among graduates and former staff stands at 115.
Rick Rickman is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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