colonia high school

Grad Inks Deal to Bring Free Brain Scans to NJ Community in Cancer Cluster Mystery

More than 100 former Colonia High School students and staff over a 30-year period have been diagnosed with cancer

Aerial view of Colonia High School in Colonia, New Jersey.
Chopper 4

A New Jersey man who graduated from the high school that he believes is linked to a mysterious cluster of brain tumors dating back decades -- and to his own diagnosis -- says he's gotten a New York City-based foundation signed on to offer free brain scans to people in the community who may not otherwise have access. He just needs a place.

More than 100 former Colonia High School students and staff have been diagnosed with brain cancer over a 30-year period. That decades-long stretch ended in the early 2000s, but recent publicity around the cases prompted an exhaustive new investigation and radiological testing at the Woodbridge Township School District building. The analysis appears to be as yet unfinished. Results are expected soon, though.

Al Lupiano is a Colonia High School graduate and environmental scientist who was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor. His wife, Michelle, who also attended Colonia high, got a benign diagnosis as well, though the two came 20 years apart.

Lupiano's sister, however, another Colonia alumnus, recently died from brain cancer -- and MyCentralJersey.com reports brother Al promised her before she died that he'd find out why the tumors were occurring in the specific community. He thinks the cases stem from contaminated soil, but there's no data to prove that at this point.

Even though the cluster cases ended almost two decades ago, Lupiano appears as determined as ever to uncover the cause -- and he understands that parents who send their kids to school there now may have some concerns despite what officials tell them.

The school has stayed open because there's no evidenced or discernible threat at this point, parents have said district officials told them, citing reports from local, state and federal investigators. But as the study continues, a number of people in the community are looking for some kind of reassurance.

Researchers at Rice University are hoping to begin human clinical trials on a cancer treatment that fights the disease right at the site of the tumor. Patients would be injected with a small bead the size of a pinhead - and this bead would act as a "factory," secreting a protein that gets the body's white blood cells to destroy the tumor and fight cancer. NBCLX storyteller Peter Hull walks you through the research.

Lupiano says he has a solution, that he's negotiated with the Manhattan-based Brain Tumor Foundation to provide free MRI brain screenings to anyone who may want one.

"Dozens of people have asked me to help them find a way to have a brain scan since they have been having signs and symptoms something may be wrong, but due to lack of insurance or not being able to afford the deductible, have not been able to have an MRI scan," Lupiano wrote in a Facebook post. "With that in mind, and after many weeks of work, I was able to negotiate an agreement with BTF to provide this service completely FREE of charge."

But where? He's looking for a place to host the screenings in early June and says he's had trouble working with local officials to find one. According to MyCentralJersey.com, the issue stems from legal concerns over the potential risk of offering a medical procedure with which municipal officials have no experience.

A Change.org petition launched earlier this month on behalf of "concerned Colonia High School parents, alumni, and township members" demands a public meeting with state officials in New Jersey and federal authorities. It now has more than 3,500 signatures. It had a little more than 200 in the first few days after it started.

Those who have signed the petition say the drips and drabs of information they're getting -- via detail-bereft statements released to the press or other mediums -- don't meet the standard of attention and transparency they say is merited "when children’s health and lives are at stake."

"We appreciate the NJDOH, NJDEP, ATSDR, and CDC assistance to the Woodbridge Township’s environmental investigation that is currently ongoing, but strongly believe that this is not enough," the petition says in part. "The agencies acknowledged their concerns regarding the potential cancer cluster, but are not conducting any testing aside from radiation and radon that the Township undertook, even though the school remains open. Because the school remains open, we demand greater urgency to find out if potentially harmful substances are harming our children and staff at Colonia High School."

Despite the number of possible cases, officials say they must first determine if there is any scientific evidentiary connection between the school grounds and the brain tumors.

The city of Woodbridge says it has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for testing at a school that graduated roughly 15,000 people over the last 30 years.

Parents like Dawn Genoni are willing to wait for that critical update.

"I have full faith they will get to the bottom of this and they will figure out what is going on," she previously told News 4.

Gov. Phil Murphy, whose administration has also been pushed to get more involved, recently described the tumor cluster as disturbing but echoed Woodbridge Township officials in stressing it was too soon to make definitive conclusions about the cause.

"We absolutely have concerns,” the Democrat told NJ.com. "I don’t know that we know enough yet to be definitive in terms of causation, et cetera."

Ultimately, if it isn’t a radiation source that is causing these illnesses, Lupiano says other tests can be done to pinpoint a cause.

"This is only the tip of the iceberg. This is only one of many, many tests that can be performed. Frequently, in hazmat, you never find it in the first shot," Lupiano said.

Copyright NBC New York
Contact Us