After analyzing more than 70 reports of tumors and cancers among former students and staff at Tempe’s Corona del Sol High School, the Arizona Department of Health Services is unable to establish a link between the school’s poor air quality and the illnesses.
The indoor environmental problems at the school — which include mold and carbon dioxide — do not “fit recognized risk factors for brain tumors,” according to a 26-page report released by the department on Monday.
“We looked at the number of different kinds of cancers that were reported and the types and site locations, to see if there was a pattern. And the review panel really felt like there wasn’t a pattern or relationship between any tumors and potential environmental exposure,” said Will Humble, assistant director for public health. “We couldn’t find a relationship, though that doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist.”
Earlier this spring, Steve Adolph, superintendent of the Tempe Union High School District, asked the Arizona Cancer Registry to investigate concerns about a higher-than-average incidence of tumors among staff and students at the school.
Corona del Sol cancer report inconclusive
The concerns came after a yearlong battle with the state over the school’s air quality. The Arizona School Facilities Board has refused to fund emergency repairs to the school’s 30-year-old ventilation system saying it did not constitute an “emergency.”
The Cancer Registry made questionnaires available, giving current and former students and staff several weeks to respond with information about any cancer or tumors they had.
Parent Mary Wolf-Francis agreed that, since the data was self-reported and likely did not reach many alumni, no hard conclusions could be drawn.
But that doesn’t mean she’s ignoring the data.
“One thing my eye was drawn to immediately was that there were five malignant brain tumors diagnosed in current students or recent graduates since 2006,” she said. “That’s five people in the past two years. (ADHS officials) are not willing to conclude anything from that, but I’m saying that it is of concern to me, as a parent. It’s like playing Russian roulette with your kids: Who is going to get the brain tumor this year? I’d encourage people to look at the data and draw their own conclusions.”
The survey request yielded 143 responses, but just 72 of them dealt with tumors or cancer. And just 38 of those met the Arizona Cancer Registry’s criteria for “reportable cancer cases.”
Due to the small sample, the department did not calculate a cancer rate for the school, as it could not be considered reliable, Humble said.
But the department did find that the proportion of students and staff at Corona del Sol who reported having tumors is similar to the proportion reported nationally by the Central Brain Tumor Registry of the United States.
The report also gave a detailed picture of who has been diagnosed with tumors. For example, eight of the reportable cases were benign brain tumors. Five other respondents have had malignant brain tumors — all of whom are under the age of 29.
While the survey’s data on tumors remained inconclusive, the report did give concrete recommendations on the air quality issues, stating that the carbon dioxide at the school is too high, which could cause drowsiness and lethargy.
The report lists several recommendations, including adjusting the ventilation system to ensure carbon dioxide concentrations remain at an acceptable level, abating mold, and replacing carpet with other materials like tile.
Last week, Gov. Janet Napolitano called on the School Facilities Board to loan money to the school district so it could make immediate repairs.