(NewsNation) — An investigation is underway at a New Jersey high school that could potentially be linked to what’s known as a cancer cluster.
After some digging, a man who attended Colonia High School in Woodbridge, New Jersey, discovered more than 100 former students and staff members had been diagnosed with the same sort of brain tumor diagnosed in his wife, his sister and himself.
Al Lupiano says it’s been a rough road, but he keeps moving forward with hopes of preventing more tragedy. The environmental scientist has been a driving force behind an investigation into Colonia High School, a place where he says 117 people with primary brain tumors and 70 with rare cancers either attended or worked at in prior years.
“My wife and my sister were diagnosed the same day in August. I had been diagnosed many years earlier; the fact that all three of us had a rare primary brain tumor just started setting off bells and whistles in my head,” Lupiano told NewsNation on Sunday.
“When I started looking into it, I quickly amassed 15 of our classmates with these rare brain tumors. I went on Facebook on March 7, and I asked for the people on Facebook to help me find others. And today, we now stand at 117 individuals with primary brain tumors, and another 70 with very rare cancers.”
Lupiano says he can’t rule out all other possibilities but adds that when looking at the numbers and where people lived in respect to the school, they did not have anything else in common.
“The only link that I was able to find over and over is all of these individuals, as well as teachers and staff, said I had taught, or I had attended Colonia High School at some point in my life,” Lupiano said.
“Many people chalk these things up to just bad luck. I tend to not see that. I look at coincidences. And when coincidence start adding up, it’s no longer a coincidence. It’s a pattern. And I saw a pattern developing here. And I said I was going to use very basic science to see if it panned out. And the further I dug into this problem, the more I found patterns emerging.”
When Lupiano’s doctor discovered that both he and his wife had the same type of tumor, he says the odds were like seeing a married couple both being struck by lightning.
“He said he had never seen in his practice, had never read about it in any books, of two individuals that happened to be married to each other having a primary brain tumor such as ours, an acoustic neuroma, which has an incident rate of one in 100,000. The chance of two of us coming together and having this was too much for him to ignore,” Lupiano said.
Both the school and local government agencies are looking into the concerns, but Lupiano feels discouraged by the hands-off approach he says state and federal agencies have taken so far.
“I’m a little frustrated because we’re getting a lot of warm wishes and ‘We’re willing to help’ from state and federal agencies. But as of yet, they’re not willing to get involved,” Lupiano said. “They’re taking more of a wait-and-see approach. And I think the time has come for them to have boots on the ground and actively participate in the sampling of air, water and soil.”
As the days and weeks go on, Lupiano is becoming more and more concerned. His sister, who passed away from impacts of her brain tumor, has children who also attend the school.
“The thought of them having to go through what the rest of us have lived through is just daunting,” Lupiano said. “The sooner we get answers, the sooner we can find out if there’s an ongoing problem, and the better everyone will be for it.”
For his family and everyone involved with Colonia High School, Lupiano is demanding answers and action.
“I think it’s time to get federal and state agencies actively involved. Stop arguing if this is a cancer cluster or not, and start getting into the school and determining if there’s a problem.”