While old questions remain unanswered, one peace of mind came out of Tuesday’s school board workshop: current students, faculty and staff at Bayshore High School don’t have to worry about groundwater contamination.
Brian Moore, principal engineer at Tampa-based engineering consultant GHD, presented the findings of two studies he and senior geologist Kenneth Caldwell conducted regarding Bayshore High School.
The school has been the center of claims that it was partially to blame for dozens of cancer cases of alumni. Class of 1981 graduate Cheryl Jozsa has taken it upon herself to keep track of these cases and is confident that there’s a connection.
GHD took two groundwater samples at irrigation wells on the high school site in mid-August, testing it for things like organophosphorus pesticides and volatile organic compounds. Zinc, nickel, lead and mercury were detected at low levels.
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“All of these metals are naturally occurring and we would suspect they would be in the aquifer just naturally at very low levels,” Moore said.
School board member Gina Messenger pressed the issue on if the results could show historical contamination.
“This is not a picture of what it was 30 years ago,” she said.
Moore said he hadn’t seen any water data recorded from the site decades prior, and he didn’t know how deep the wells went.
“At the same time our experience suggests that if there were chlorinated solvents at high concentrations at this depth 30 years ago, unless there was an actual cleanup of the site that was causing the problem, they would still be there,” Moore said.
Moore and Caldwell concluded that there were “no significant concerns” found.
They also looked into the documents that the School District of Manatee County has on Bayshore High School, and while they identified possible indoor and outdoor environmental concerns, they identified that the health risk they posed was “minimal.” GHD also noted that none of the documents contained groundwater tests.
This was a point of contention for Jozsa, who still wanted an answer on where the school got its drinking water from 1962 to 1999, when the new school was built.
“Nobody knows the exact truth of this as we stand here today,” said school district spokesman Mike Barber.
Jozsa also claimed that some school board minutes had been “recreated,” as they appeared in a typed format, and still wondered if off-site pollution from a non-National Priorities List Superfund site to the north of the campus could have contributed to cancer cases she continues to discover.
“We keep getting accused as a school district of hiding documents, of withholding information, of hiding information, and I can tell you none of that is being done,” Barber said. “We have nothing to hide and the tests keep proving that.”
Dr. Jennifer Bencie, county health officer with the Florida Department of Health in Manatee County, said that her office will be working to determine whether or not this is a cancer cluster, which is typically defined as one type of cancer caused by a single source.
In October, the health department will announce an initiative for Bayshore alumni afflicted with cancer and their families to submit information to them, which will be reviewed in conjunction with the Florida Cancer Registry.
Jozsa said she is grateful to know that the test results didn’t find anything harmful in the groundwater, but she still plans on continuing on her search.
“I’ll help anybody who wants to call me,” Jozsa said after the meeting. “We can share information and we can work together. This is not us against them. This is about the search for answers so other people do not die.”