After being diagnosed with a very rare brain tumor, along with both his wife and sister, Al Lupiano began investigating the connection between this rare diagnosis and the New Jersey high school they all attended. Lupiano has since identified at least 110 graduates from Colonia High School that have all been diagnosed with the rare tumor.
In 1999, at the age of 27, Lupiano was diagnosed with a very rare, abnormally large, benign brain tumor called Acoustic Neuroma (AN). Last summer, his wife and sister were also diagnosed with rare, malignant brain tumors on the very same day. Lupiano’s wife was diagnosed with a malignant AN tumor, and his sister, who has since passed away, was diagnosed with malignant Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM). All three attended the same high school in Woodbridge.
Before Lupiano’s sister, Angela DeCillis, passed away, he promised her that he would get to the bottom of the cancer cluster he had identified.
The 110 Colonia High School graduates identified by Lupiano have also been diagnosed with rare brain tumors – both cancerous. and noncancerous. These tumors are rare because they are primary brain tumors, which means they originate in the brain, while secondary brain tumors, which originate in the body and spread to the brain, are more common.
Lupiano also has heard from residents living near the high school who have contacted him reporting a “cluster” of similar cancer cases in the vicinity.
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“It’s overwhelming. … I’m doing this not only for my wife, my sister — my nieces are currently in the school — but this deserves further understanding. Further explanation of what occurred at that high school over these decades of people being in the building,” Lupiano said. “I don’t think this is the end of the story. I have a really bad feeling we’re going to find contamination beyond the high school. There’s lots and lots of people calling me, saying, ‘Look, I didn’t go to the high school, but I live a mile away, and we call our block cancer alley.'”
Lupiano, an environmental scientist, believes the grounds of the high school could be contaminated. One theory is that the contamination came from a nearby sampling plant that is now closed, but previously was a site for imported uranium ores that were “imported for use in the nation’s early atomic energy program,” and were “shipped to other sites for processing,” as reported by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).
“[W]e have really solid data on primary brain tumors because of what we learned after World War Two, what we learned after Chernobyl,” Lupiano reported. “The medical journals are rich with data supporting ionizing radiation causes brain tumors. So that’s why I focused on cancerous or malignant and benign — because they’re triggered by the same thing, and we have really solid statistics to say all.”
Between the 1940s and 1967 – coincidentally the same year Colonia High School was built – the plant received shipments of uranium, thorium, and beryllium ores. And, while the plant reportedly “decontaminated to the standards in effect at the time,” there were “traces of radioactive materials that had been carried offsite over the years by wind and rain to yards of neighboring homes.”
The USACE also reports that in 1948, “some radioactively contaminated materials had been trucked from the plant to the Middlesex Municipal Landfill (MML), one-half mile away.” And, in the 1980s, “the excavated soil was stored at the site in a specially constructed pile, known as the Vicinity Properties (VP) pile.” This soil could have been transported to Colonia High School and used in its construction in 1967.
The New Jersey Departments of Health (DOH) and Environmental Protection (DEP) are currently investigating the apparent cancer cluster, and released a joint statement saying,
“Our agencies are aware of the concerns raised by local residents, particularly as they relate to Colonia High School, and are partnering with Mayor McCormac and Woodbridge Township to better understand the issue and determine whether any relevant environmental exposure concerns are present at the site. The Departments stand ready to assist Woodbridge in reviewing any environmental data it collects to determine appropriate next steps.
The Department of Health will work with the federal Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to provide an assessment of the potential health effects. If there are any potential environmental exposure pathways identified and a need for further environmental sampling, the state Health Department will work cooperatively with ATSDR to conduct a public health assessment and evaluate the potential for health effects.”