It’s a medical mystery worthy of “House M.D.” as more than 100 people who attended or worked at a New Jersey high school develop a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer years later, prompting an official investigation into the cause.
Al Lupiano, a 50-year-old environmental scientist, graduated from Colonia High School in Woodbridge, NJ, in 1988. Some 14 years later, in 2002, Lupiano was diagnosed with a rare glioblastoma brain tumor — a condition he beat, though one from which he still suffers issues.
It was a stroke of bad luck — or so Lupiano thought, until last August when both his wife and his sister were diagnosed with the same, rare brain tumor on the left side of the brain.
“My sister received the news she had a primary brain tumor, herself,” Lupiano told CBS2. “Unfortunately, it turned out to be stage 4 glioblastoma. Two hours later, we received information that my wife also had a primary brain tumor.”
(Video: CBS New York)
Lupiano’s sister lost her battle with the tumor last month, and Lupiano began digging for answers. What he discovered was a disturbing amount of cases of the same rare form of cancer and one common denominator: his high school.
“I started doing some research and the three became five, the five became seven, the seven became 15,” Lupiano said.
I grew up in Colonia and watched 5 women age 30 to 45, on 1 block, all die from cancer in a decade. All were long term residents. For years I have been saying to check the area along the parkway. Many streets and the high school in Colonia are along the sides of the GSP.
— Alexander Callison (@totalfreak21) April 8, 2022
The scientist took to Facebook and called on all Colonia High School alumni to see how many were suffering the same fate as his family.
“For the past six months, I’ve spent hundreds of hours scouring the internet and speaking to people about brain tumors,” Lupiano said on Facebook. “During my research, I uncovered a shocking number of our Woodbridge Township friends and family have also been diagnosed with primary brain tumors. When I analyzed the numbers – I wasn’t prepared to see the results!”
At the time of the CBS interview in late March, Lupiano claimed to have confirmed 65 cases of rare brain tumors, all affecting people who either attended or worked at Colonia High School. Since then, the number has topped 100, according to an April 11 update from Lupiano on Facebook.
Lupiano posted that, “as of midnight Sunday 4/10, I recorded the 100th case of someone having a primary brain tumor. I never in my worst nightmare envisioned ever hitting this milestone. That’s 100 people with their life forever changed. 100 families having to be told the terrible news. 100 stories of shock and disbelief with the diagnosis.”
While most of the cases were among those who graduated between 1975 and the class of 2000, one case attended the school in 2014.
“What I find alarming is there’s truly only one environmental link to primary brain tumors and that’s ionizing radiation,” Lupiano told CBS. “It’s not contaminated water. It’s not air. It’s not something in soil. It’s not something done to us due to bad habits.”
Lupiano is working with local officials to uncover the cause at a school that was built in 1967.
“It was virgin land,” said Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac. “It was woods. The high school was the first thing to be there, so there was probably nothing in the ground at that time. The only thing that could have happened, potentially, was fill that was brought in during construction.”
“We have no records 55 years ago,” the mayor added.
McCormac has contacted the state Department of Health, Department of Environmental Protection, and the Federal Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry for assistance.
“We are looking at possible things that we can do between the town and school, and they said they will look at anything we come up with,” the mayor said.
“There could be a real problem here, and our residents deserve to know if there are any dangers,” McCormac told NJ.com. “We’re all concerned, and we all want to get to the bottom of this.”
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