Credit: Courtesy

A group of Dos Pueblos High School employees, concerned about a potential cancer cluster, met with Principal Bill Woodard just over a week ago to express their worries. In response, the school district has set several studies in motion: to determine the amount of cancer at the school, to survey those affected, and to assess the environment on campus that might be related, said Santa Barbara Unified Superintendent Hilda Maldonado on Thursday.

Roughly 160 people work at DP, including teachers and classified staff, said Woodard. Built in 1966, the 182-acre high school sits below Cathedral Oaks Road in the El Encanto Heights neighborhood, with an old avocado orchard across the road to one side and the Glen Annie Golf Course above. A group of 15-20 employees had talked with Woodard about their concerns, which had been triggered after an employee received a cancer diagnosis recently. The anxiety was compounded by the deaths by cancer since about 1990, as well as a recent death that may have been due to cancer.

Maldonado said district leaders first spoke with County Public Health to seek guidance on what to do. Among those steps is collecting more information on who is getting cancer, their personal statistics, and what types of cancers were people getting. At the same time, as soon as Monday, a contractor will begin an environmental health assessment of things like the air, water, and soil on campus.

“We want to make sure we do a comprehensive assessment,” Maldonado said. “We would rather allay everyone’s fears and err on the side of ‘Things are going to be okay.'”

Upon learning of the steps the district was taking, Woodard said that they appreciated the district’s response and that their concerns were being taken seriously.

While the concerns being aired now are coming from adults on campus, Maldonado indicated that questions about students, families, or nearby residents may be revealed through the Cancer Registry information. All families are being notified, she said. “We want to remove the questions in our minds, but more importantly among families and our staff members.”

On Friday, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) reported that questions about Dos Pueblos had been sent to the regional cancer registry at the request of Santa Barbara County Public Health. A CDPH spokesperson explained that a true cancer cluster “is a situation in which there are more cancer cases in a group of people, in a location, or in a time period than would be expected based upon usual patterns.” A “cluster” usually is for one type of cancer, the spokesperson explained.

Doctors, hospitals, and pathologists have reported all cancers to the state since 1985, and the information is used to identify trends, statistics, and factors like race or occupational risk. An epidemiologist with the regional registry will work with the community to gather information and perform an assessment in this instance.

This story was updated regarding the cancer registry on December 17, 2022.

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