School faces testing for autism
June 19, 2007
Officials are probing
whether environmental factors contributed to a high prevalence of autism and
learning disabilities among the children of teachers in a Northvale school.
Testing options for St.
Anthony's on Walnut Street will be discussed tonight by officials and
environmental advisers at a 7:30 meeting in Borough Hall. The school for 30
years has housed a program for children diagnosed with varying degrees of
In Autism's Grip
coverage: In Autism's Grip
A place for parents,
teachers and others to discuss the broad spectrum of autism's effects.
* * *
• One of every 94
children in New Jersey has autism.
• Boys: 1 in 60
• Girls: 1 in 250
• National rate: 1 in
* * *
Autism bills heading to
the state Assembly would:
• Add $4 million
annually to the research and clinical funding grants distributed in-state
by the Governor's Council on Autism. The council has already awarded about
• Establish a panel on
autistic adults, including those who have the disorder and representatives
from state government.
• Require pediatricians
to screen for autism and compel health officials to maintain a statewide
registry of cases.
• Make autism awareness
a requirement for teacher certification and train emergency workers to
recognize the disorder.
The concerns originated
in Room 5, where two instructors had worked before giving birth to children
with learning disabilities. Later, school officials found that others
throughout the school had similar experiences.
An informal poll
conducted by school officials that relied in part upon teachers'
recollections indicated that 14 of 39 children born since 1997 had a learning
disability. Three of those were diagnosed as autistic and 11 were challenged
by speech and language delays.
About 100 students attend
the special education school, which is administered by Northern Valley
Regional High School District.
"In the meantime,
because of anxiety, we made arrangements to move summer programs out of that
building," said Superintendent Jan Furman, adding that she will know
today where the students will report.
Pinpointing a cause for
the disabilities will not be easy, Furman said.
Dr. Walter Zahorodny,
director of the New Jersey Autism Study and assistant professor at the
University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, agrees.
Zahorodny pointed to a
study released in 2000 from Brick Township, where the federal Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention confirmed residents' concerns over a high
number of autism cases. But the study and Zahorodny's own studies in other
counties could not find a cause.
A federal study made
public in February found New Jersey had the highest rate of autism ever
recorded in the United States: one in 94 children, and one in 60 boys.
Researchers based their
findings on 2002 data from 14 states. The overall rate in those states was
one in 150 children -- surpassing the earlier baseline of one in 166.
"All the lead people
involved in the study said they understand the rates are higher, but they're
not sure what's making the difference," Zahorodny said.
The Newark Archdiocese
owns the property and leases it to the Northern Valley.
The archdiocese has
conducted twice-a-year asbestos tests, as required by the government, said
spokesman Jim Goodness. The school district also conducted an air test, he
said, which raised no concerns.
The borough's health
officer said the school will be examined for lead and for volatile organic
"We want to be
proactive," Mayor John Hogan said. "Ultimately, it is our
responsibility to protect the children within our town."
Environmental issues have
plagued two sites in Northvale's downtown, although neither is close to St.
One is a 2-acre site at
254 Livingston St., where hundreds of drums containing toxic chemicals were
buried underground in the 1960s. The property was owned by TECT Inc., a
chemical company that operated there until it went bankrupt in 1968. The
borough began a cleanup project in 1998 that included the removal of more than
500 drums and storage tanks that contained volatile organic compounds that
leaked into the ground. The site is being monitored and cleaned by
The other is Deluxe
Cleaners at 151 Livingston St., where several oil and solvent tanks were
removed from the property that was a dry cleaner. The soil remains
contaminated. The town took over the site in 1998 and has brought in
environmental experts to clean up and monitor it.
Assemblyman John Rooney,
a former borough mayor, did not see a connection between the Livingston
Street sites and the concerns at the school.
"It's so far away,
it could not affect anything," Rooney said. "They weren't drinking
the water. There's no well water in Northvale."
Meanwhile, officials can
only say they need more information.
"What I've been told
is it's learning disabilities encompassing physical handicaps, neurological,
autism and a broad spectrum," Health Officer Angela Musella said.
"The bottom line is you can't draw any conclusion. We are still