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Spotlight Gets Suspected Cancer Cluster Story At Colonia High School Wrong (Again!)

Colonia High School Is Literally Immersed In A Sea Of Known Carcinogens

Spotlight Again Downplays Scope Of The Problem And Lack of DEP Regulation

Corporate Polluters And DEP Get A Pass

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When the alleged Colonia High School cancer cluster story broke, I ridiculed the quality of the NJ Spotlight TV coverage and by inference the work of the “Facebook Epidemiologist”, see:

Today NJ Spotlight print did a followup story, see:

Ironically, my sense is that the journalistic intent of that story was to bring some science and expertise to the story and thus try put the Genie back in the bottle, after the TV coverage opened Pandora’s box.

In that sense, Spotlight is doing almost exactly what they did in opening Pandora’s box with the PFAS “forever chemicals” in drinking water story.

After opening Pandora’s box, they tried to walk it back and put out the fire. But that PFAS coverage downplayed the health risks, ignored DEP’s lack of enforcement and the entire issue of “unregulated chemicals”, and dramatically reduced the scope of a Statewide story to just one drinking water system in Middlesex County.

So, once again, let me correct their biggest errors.

1. According to DEP’s own data, the Colonia High School is immersed 24/7 in a literal sea of known carcinogens. At least 14 are regulated by DEP, but there are hundreds of other toxic chemicals in the air and drinking water that are not regulated that HS students and the community are exposed to, 24/7.

Millions of NJ residents are exposed to ambient air that exceeds NJ DEP’s cancer risk benchmarks. DEP has mapped these risks from at least 14 regulated “hazardous air pollutants”.

Corporate polluters don’t want you to know this and NJ Spotlight and DEP don’t tell you this.

2. The Tom River childhood cancer cluster was caused by an unregulated air pollutant emitted by corporate polluter Ceiba-Geigy.

There are hundreds of unregulated chemicals and major chemical pollution emitted to air and water by NJ corporate polluters.

Corporate polluters don’t want you to know this and NJ Spotlight and DEP don’t tell you this.

And, it goes without saying, of course, Facebook is not a valid epidemiological method. Spotlight should have made that point more clearly.

(I’m sure reporter Jon Hurdle never heard of the Toms River cancer cluster and that I brought it to his or his editor’s or sources attention.)

(similarly, NJ Spotlight’s Rutgers “expert” source is conducting sham research on PFAS in Paulsboro, NJ. That work ignores the cumulative risks of multiple exposure to hundreds of chemicals emitted by local corporate polluters. So, of course he will divert from DEP’s science on those issues, the excessive exposure all people of NJ face to known carcinogens, and the lack of effective monitoring and regulation by DEP. And so will Jon Hurdle, who reports almost exclusively on PFAS.)

See below email to Spotlight reporter Jon Hurdle and his editor John McApin. I also copied DEP Commissioner LaTourette and Senate Environment Committee Chair Bob Smith.

Jon – there are two serious fact errors in your story today on the alleged cancer cluster at Colonia HS:

1. This quote is false:

“But to date we don’t have any environmental factors that are known to cause brain tumors.”

There are several known local environmental factors that are known to cause cancer, including brain cancer.

The DEP published maps of 14 air pollutants that are known carcinogens and ambient air exceed cancer risk benchmarks, see:

(here’s the cancer risk map for benzene  – DEP is minimizing these risks by presenting them as single chemicals – directly in conflict with the legislative mandate in the “environmental justice” law which directed DEP to consider “cumulative impacts”).


To see a state map showing the spatial variation in modeled air concentrations (at the census-tract level) for one of the fourteen chemicals of concern, click on the chemical name:

Additionally, the school is located very close to the Garden State Parkway and a gas station. Among many carcinogens, just one pollutant emitted by the gas station and cars is benzene, which is classified as a “known human carcinogen” by EPA and other federal health agencies, see ATSDR:


2. The statement is false by omission:

“Very few achieve the label, but one of them is Toms River, where the rate of childhood cancers surged in the 1990s after the town’s drinking water was contaminated with toxic chemicals from two waste dumps.”

It is accurate to state that the concern began over contaminated drinking water and toxic chemicals from two waste dumps.

But the Toms River cancer cluster study found that cancer in girls was caused by an unregulated air pollutant. Here is the NJ DOH study: (see #2)

“The study found that prenatal exposure to two environmental factors in the past were associated with increased risk of leukemia in female children. These exposures were: 1) access to drinking water from the Parkway well field after the time that the well field was most likely to be contaminated, and 2) air pollutant emissions from the Ciba-Geigy chemical manufacturing plant.”


Omission of the Toms River air contaminant and the fact that it was unregulated is even more false and misleading given the facts I present in point #1.

(and think of the 500 unregulated chemical contaminants that DEP knows are present in NJ drinking water!)

Please correct your errors ASAP. The school is literally immersed in a sea of carcinogens.

3. FYI, back on April 5, I ridiculed the Spotlight TV coverage, see:

Chasing Toxic Unicorns In Woodbridge, New Jersey



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