WOODBRIDGE - A consultant will be testing the grounds at Colonia High School amid concerns that the school is linked to a high rate of rare brain cancers. Federal and state agencies are also starting their own investigation.

Township Council approved the emergency contract with T&M Associates at Tuesday night's meeting. Altogether, it will cost $221,350.

Council's resolution states T&M environmentalists will conduct "Radiological Assessments' at CHS. This involves leaving radon canisters at the school for 14 days. These canisters do not pose a risk to students and only test radon levels in the air.

Additionally, T&M will work with Cabrera Services, Inc., a company that specializes in radiological and environmental remediation.

Get our free mobile app

They will "utilize state-of-the-art technology to acquire real-time radiation measurements throughout the interior and exterior of the building in conjunction with an intensive survey that will encompass all 28 acres that constitute the property of Colonia High School."

Mayor John McCormac told New Jersey 101.5 the testing is set to begin on the morning of Saturday, April 9.

"I'll be confident with what our consultants come up with and we'll share that with the state," McCormac said. "They will decide what they want to do. They may do other testing. They may just rely on what we give them. And together we'll figure out the next course of action."

The mayor said this means it will take some time for the results to come in. However, the testing marks a major development for what was once a single man's mission to help his family and community.

New Jersey 101.5 first broke the story last week of Al Lupiano's dive into more than 60 cases of rare brain tumors among CHS graduates and former staff.

Lupiano, his wife Michele, and his sister Angela all graduated from Colonia High School. And all three developed rare forms of brain cancers.

Since Angela's passing in February, Lupiano has dedicated himself to finding a link between the school and rare brain cancers. His background in environmental work, including as an EPA emergency responder handling radioactive material, has given him greater insight into the situation.

Angela M. DeCillis, a Colonia High School graduate, Class of '95. DeCillis passed away at the age of 44 from a rare form of brain cancer. (Gosselin Funeral Home/Seripe/Townsquare Media photo illustration)
Angela M. DeCillis, a Colonia High School graduate, Class of '95. DeCillis passed away at the age of 44 from a rare form of brain cancer. (Gosselin Funeral Home/Seripe/Townsquare Media photo illustration)
loading...

The number of possibly related tumors has now grown to more than 90 people, according to Lupiano.

Lupiano and McCormac became quick partners after concerned residents reached out to the mayor's office.

"He's very happy with the testing," McCormac said of Lupiano. "He's in the field so I shared with him the proposal. He understands the science better than I do and he was very happy to see what was being done."

Lupiano told the Townsquare News Network he's pleased with what he called "the first big step into providing answers."

"But, I am also torn between hoping we find nothing, meaning the problem no longer exists, and also wanting to find something, meaning we can prevent any more having to suffer," Lupiano said.

"I truly want to find a link to our health issues, but I also know what the ramifications of a finding are. If we detect an environmental hazard, it means the problem still exists, and potentially countless more may have been exposed. For the sake of our children, I pray that this is not the case."

Together, Lupiano and McCormac have been in contact with numerous high-level agencies.

"There is a lot of bureaucracy at the federal and state level, but we're dealing with that," McCormac said. "We had a call two days ago with everybody and it seemed to go well."

The call included the CDC, the EPA, the state Department of Health, the state Department of Environmental Protection, Governor Phil Murphy's office, Woodbridge Township, the Board of Education, and the consultants. U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J 6th District, who is known for his environmental advocacy, led the call.

An EPA Region 2 office spokesman confirmed they are aware of the situation.

"EPA has received information about the community's concerns related to Colonia High School," Region 2 spokesperson Elías Rodríguez said. "We take those concerns seriously and will communicate with both the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the New Jersey Department of Health as they investigate the matter."

State agencies are also working with the federal Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry, according to a joint statement from the state DOH and DEP provided by DEP spokesperson Caryn Shinske.

"Our agencies are aware of the concerns raised by local residents, particularly as they relate to Colonia High School, and are partnering with Mayor McCormac and Woodbridge Township to better understand the issue and determine whether any relevant environmental exposure concerns are present at the site. The Departments stand ready to assist Woodbridge in reviewing any environmental data it collects to determine appropriate next steps."

The full statement is available at the end of this article.

Local officials are prioritizing the investigation. Lupiano's questions have gained national coverage and some Woodbridge residents are worried.

"People are concerned, naturally, with what seems to be a significant number of cases of brain-related cancers and tumors from people who have been to the school," McCormac said.

Mayor McCormac and Woodbridge Township School District Superintendent Dr. Joseph Massimino released a joint statement last week.

"We have requested that the agencies move quickly to conduct any necessary research and verification of data so we can efficiently coordinate and facilitate any actions that will assist in the evaluation of the information and implementation of any environmental impact studies," they said.

Woodbridge Township has created a section on its website dedicated to Colonia High School Health Information. Among the available links are reports regarding a radioactive rock found at the school in 1997.

While Lupiano believes ionizing radiation may be responsible for the possible cancer cluster, it's unlikely that the rock is related.

Radiation physicist William Csaszar with the state DEP's Bureau of Environmental Radiation found the rock "posed no health threat to any students or faculty," according to a report.

"Mr. Csaszar gave the analogy that one would get more radiation from sun bathing than from being near the rock," the report said.

The full joint statement from the state DEP and DOH is below.

"Ensuring the continued protection of public health is a core principle of both the New Jersey Department of Health and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Our agencies are aware of the concerns raised by local residents, particularly as they relate to Colonia High School, and are partnering with Mayor McCormac and Woodbridge Township to better understand the issue and determine whether any relevant environmental exposure concerns are present at the site. The Departments stand ready to assist Woodbridge in reviewing any environmental data it collects to determine appropriate next steps."

The Department of Health will work with the federal Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to provide an assessment of the potential health effects. If there are any potential environmental exposure pathways identified and a need for further environmental sampling, the state Health Department will work cooperatively with ATSDR to conduct a public health assessment and evaluate the potential for health effects.  We thank Mayor McCormac and the local residents for raising these concerns and we ask for patience as we pursue the science to try to identify answers."

New Jersey's smallest towns by population

New Jersey's least populated municipalities, according to the 2020 Census. This list excludes Pine Valley, which would have been the third-smallest with 21 residents but voted to merge into Pine Hill at the start of 2022.

Check out the most expensive home for sale in Somerset County

7 things NJ should ban right now