A New Jersey man is searching for answers after nearly 100 people connected to a local high school were stricken with “extremely” rare malignant brain tumors.
Al Lupiano is one of the 94 former staff and students from Colonia High School in the Woodbridge Township School District who have come down with catastrophic diagnoses in the past years.
“I will not rest until I have answers,” Lupiano, 50, declared in an interview with NJ.com and the Star-Ledger on Thursday. “I will uncover the truth.”
On her deathbed, Lupiano promised his sister that he would work to find the cause of the apparent cancer cluster at Colonia High.
On Tuesday, local officials approved an emergency probe of the school after a public push by Lupiano.
“There could be a real problem here, and our residents deserve to know if there are any dangers,” Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac said. “We’re all concerned, and we all want to get to the bottom of this. This is definitely not normal.”
Various radiological assessments will be conducted across the school’s 28-acre campus, including testing indoor air samples for radon, starting this week.
In the late 1990s, when he was 27-years-old, Lupiano was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Eventually, he recovered from the disease.
His wife, who also attended the school, was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor last year. On the same day of his wife’s diagnosis, Lupiano’s younger sister Angela DeCillis, another alumna of Colonia, learned that she too had brain cancer.
In February, after the death of his sister, Lupiano became convinced of a link between the Colonia campus and the brain cancers that he, his wife, and his sister had developed. The sibling started a Facebook group asking locals if they knew of other people associated with the school who had been stricken by similar diagnoses a month ago.
The names of 94 people connected with the school who have developed brain tumors had been gathered in less than six weeks, said Lupiano.
This week, CBS News made the unsettling story national when it became headline news. In just 24 hours, more than 2.2 million viral views were accumulated by a subsequent TikTok video discussing the medical mystery.
According to the Star-Ledger, the vast majority of those who have developed brain tumors “graduated between 1975 and 2000, although outliers have come as recently as a 2014 graduate.”
The diagnoses include “several types of primary brain tumors, including cancerous forms like glioblastoma and noncancerous yet debilitating masses such as acoustic neuromas, haemangioblastomas, and meningiomas.”
“To find something like this … is a significant discovery,” Dr. Sumul Raval, one of New Jersey’s top neuro-oncologists, told the outlet. “Normally speaking, you don’t get radiation in a high school … unless something is going on in that area that we don’t know,” Raval added, calling for an immediate investigation.
Popular personality Dr. Joe Whittington posted the viral TikTok video discussing the purported cancer cluster on Wednesday.
A board-certified MD in California, Whittington, claimed glioblastoma multiforme is the form of cancer that several brain tumors developed by ex-Colonia High staff and students had. Glioblastoma multiforme is aggressive cancer that spreads to brain tissue.
According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, glioblastoma has an incidence of 3.21 per 100,000. The cancer is exceedingly rare. The exact number of former faculty and staff diagnosed with glioblastoma is unknown.
A rage of conspiracy-theory-based comments was sparked on TikTok, with some claiming mold, toxic waste, asbestos, and nearby cellphone towers as the cause for the clusters.
On Thursday, Lupiano also spoke with CBS News, saying he now believes ionizing radiation must be responsible for the health issues.
“What I find alarming is there’s truly only one environmental link to primary brain tumors, and that’s ionizing radiation,” he declared. “It’s not contaminated water. It’s not air. It’s not something in the soil. It’s not something done to us due to bad habits.”
According to Newsweek, the school was built back in 1967 on acres of empty land, with McCormac telling the news network he is stumped as to what could be causing the cancers.
According to the CBS News report, Lupiano has reached out to the state Department of Health, Department of Environmental Protection, and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry for help and is reportedly in the early stages.
Lupiano told NJ Spotlight News that the Middlesex Sampling Plant is less than 12 miles from school. It was a site that was used, under the direction of the Manhattan Project, to crush, dry, store, package, and ship uranium ore for the development of the atomic bomb.
Allegedly some of the contaminated soil was removed from the site when it closed down in 1967. That was the same year Colonia High School was built. Lupiano questioned whether some of that soil ended up on the school grounds.
Colonia enrolls approximately 1,300 students currently, with many said to be “anxious” about the possible cancer cluster.
“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,” McCormac said.