The Florida Department of Health in Manatee County will reveal its plan Monday to collect information on former Bayshore High School students, staff and teachers to address years of health concerns.
The high school has been the subject of a crusade to figure out how dozens and dozens of people got cancer, some dying from it, after they spent time in the halls of the older, now-demolished Bayshore High at 5401 34th St. W.
“While we have no evidence that Bayshore High School is the source of any disease clusters, DOH-Manatee has agreed to review patient information for students, faculty and staff,” the health department press release said. The department is partnering with the School District of Manatee County at the direction of the Manatee County Board of County Commissioners.
Bayshore’s health concerns have made headlines for years. In 2007, a town hall headed by then-State Rep. Bill Galvano brought more than 100 people who went to Bayshore from the 1960s to 1995, when the new building was established, according to Bradenton Herald archives. Nearly 10 years ago to this day, the Department of Environmental Protection had found no dangerous chemicals in the soil or groundwater.
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At the time of the town hall, Class of 1981 graduate Cheryl Jozsa said she had known of at least 70 people with significant health problems after being in the old Bayshore building, including her sister Terri Lumsden Jewell. Jozsa has since been unofficially gathering data from former Bruins.
She separates each into categories: alumni living with cancer, those who died from cancer, those who have autoimmune diseases and those whose children are born with birth defects. Today, Jozsa says she has information on 478 cases of alumni, 106 of whom died from various cancers.
Questions were again drummed up in March, with alumni demanding answers on whether health problems could have been caused by runoff from nearby Riverside Products — a Superfund site that the Environmental Protection Agency deemed as least threatening and didn’t warrant further investigation — or leaks from underground storage tanks.
The county utilities department has documentation that students were drinking municipal water as of 1985, but don’t have information prior to that because state statute doesn’t require water meter records to be stored after they are no longer in use.
School board Chairman Charlie Kennedy had wanted to reach out to Bayshore alumni to tell them about the possibility that they had a higher risk of cancer, but Superintendent Diana Greene said it wasn’t the school district’s role.
Since then, county commissioners and the school board held a joint workshop to lay out everything that either public entity had on the subject, including input from the health department. Dr. Jennifer Bencie, the administrator for Manatee’s health department, said that although the Florida Cancer Registry indicated no anomolies or cancer clusters, she would have to review the person’s medical records to be certain.
Calling an incident a “cancer cluster,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, requires that there are a greater than normal number of cancer cases than expected, that the cancers are the same type and that the cases are limited to a specific population in a specific region in a certain time frame.
In September, the school district heard results of a document review and another water sample testing from August. Tampa-based engineering consultant GHD presented these findings, noting that there were “no significant concerns” found at the testing sites, and that current faculty and students weren’t in any danger. GHD also noted in their report that none of the documents included groundwater tests.
More information about how the information will be collected and analyzed will be presented at Monday’s 3 p.m. press conference.