More than 100 people from the same high school have been diagnosed with brain cancer amid fears uranium in the soil made them ill.
The victims, who all went to Colonia High School in Woodbridge, New Jersey, developed the ‘rare’ glioblastoma years after studying or working there.
The link was only spotted when one former student – now an environmental scientist – noticed people he knew from the institution were getting sick.
Al Lupiano revealed he had a brain tumor 20 years ago, before his wife had one and so did his sister – who died in February aged just 44.
The 50-year-old claims the diseases could be traced back to a nearby sampling plant that dealt with uranium for the first atomic bomb under the Manhattan Project.
He vowed on his sister’s deathbed he would uncover the cause of the illness, adding: ‘I will not rest until I have answers’.
His findings have sparked panic at the school with many of its 1,300 current students said to be ‘anxious’.
Woodbridge officials said they are looking into his claims to try to determine an underlying cause.
Al Lupiano revealed he had a brain tumor 20 years ago, before his wife (pictured together) had one and so did his sister – who died in February aged just 44
Lupiano vowed to his sister (pictured) that he would uncover the cause of the tumors
The victims, who all went to Colonia High School (pictured) in Woodbridge, New Jersey, developed the ‘rare’ glioblastoma years after studying or working there
The 50-year-old claims the diseases could be traced back to a nearby sampling plant (pictured) that dealt with uranium for the first atomic bomb under the Manhattan Project
Lupiano was diagnosed with a tumor in 2002 and did not make any connection to the school until his wife and sister were taken ill.
The latter, Angela DeCillis, passed away in March and it sparked him into researching the cause.
He started with a small pool of patients but as the numbers grew he noticed people had either worked or studied at the same high school.
Lupiano posted about his research on Facebook and soon realized the number of people affected skyrocketed.
He told CBS News: ‘I started doing some research and the three became five, the five became seven, the seven became 15.
‘Fast forward to August of last year. My sister received the news she had a primary brain tumor, herself. Unfortunately, it turned out to be stage 4 glioblastoma.
‘Two hours later, we received information that my wife also had a primary brain tumor.’
Stacey Ramos (pictured) was one of those to contact him, telling him how she was just 41 when she got sick
Earlier this year his inbox became flooded with former classmates and teachers from the school saying they were also dealing with rare brain tumors.
The vast majority ‘graduated between 1975 and 2000 – but there is one case as recently as 2014.
Lupiano continued: ‘What I find alarming is there’s truly only one environmental link to primary brain tumors and that’s ionizing radiation.
‘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.’
Stacey Ramos was one of those to contact him, telling him how she was just 41 when she got sick.
She said: ‘At the age of 41 I found out I had a very rare soft tissue malignant tumor SPINDLE CELL CARCINOMA which engulfed my tear duct where they believe it began, orbit, sinus (I lost half of sinus canal) nasal cavity, and it began growing in or towards my ear canal/tubes, & was getting close to my brain.
‘I had symptoms for three + years prior but was undetected until it got worse.
‘I’m currently have issues with the right ear and tube on the cancer side I’m worried about.’
More than 100 people who have made contact with Lupiano include ‘several types of primary brain tumors such as cancerous forms like glioblastoma.
But they also include noncancerous yet debilitating masses such as acoustic neuromas, haemangioblastomas and meningiomas.
Glioblastoma, or glioblastoma multiforme, is an aggressive type of brain cancer.
It develops when cells supporting nerves in the brain begin to divide uncontrollably.
These fast-growing cells invade nearby brain tissue, making them hard to remove, but generally do not spread to other areas of the body.
Survival rates are poor, with less than half of patients surviving more than a year after diagnosis.
About one in 30,000 people have the condition, estimates suggest.
Lupiano launched an investigation to uncover what was happening, with him delving into the school’s history including what was on the site before.
But he said: ‘It was virgin land. It was woods. The high school was the first thing to be there, so there was probably nothing in the ground at that time.’
One possibility he is probing is the idea contaminated soil from a nearby sampling plant may have brought uranium ore to the site.
He told NJ Spotlight News the school was 12 miles from Middlesex Sampling Plant, which was used to crush, dry and store uranium ore for atomic bombs.
Lupiano claims some of the contaminated soil was remove from the site after it shut down in 1967 – the same year Colonia High School was built.
He suggested some of it may have somehow ended up on the school grounds.
He added to NJ.com: ‘I will not rest until I have answers. I will uncover the truth.’
In one bizarre instance, a science lesson was pulled to a halt when a teacher practicing with a Geiger counter started picking up huge readings for radiation on a rock.
The class watched on in awe as the slate-colored pebble lit up the monitor and baffled the tutor in the May 1997 class.
The school was evacuated minutes later and a team in hazmat suits arrived to test the object.
The rock was said to have been taken away by a chemist for testing and was allegedly later found not to be dangerous.
‘What I find alarming is there’s truly only one environmental link to primary brain tumors and that’s ionizing radiation. 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, pictured, said
Lupiano believes that some contaminated soil that was removed from a nearby site used to build an atomic bomb may have been dumped in grounds where the school was built
Despite this, local officials have voiced their concerns at Lupiano’s findings, with the mayor pledging to look at possible links between the diseases and the school.
John McCormick said: ‘The only thing that could have happened, potentially, was fill that was brought in during construction. We have no records 55 years ago.’
He continued: ‘There could be a real problem here, and our residents deserve to know if there are any dangers.
‘We’re all concerned, and we all want to get to the bottom of this. This is definitely not normal.
‘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.’
Dr Sumul Raval said: ‘To find something like this … is a significant discovery. Normally speaking, you don’t get radiation in a high school . . . unless something is going on in that area that we don’t know.’
District Superintendent Dr Joseph Massimo said: ‘I’m a lifelong resident here. I raised my family here. So the health and safety of our students is of paramount importance to me.’
Tiktok star Dr Joe Whittington posted a video about the cases on his social media pages, which went viral.
He said: ‘Nobody knows why these tumors are occurring at such a high rate in this population, and researchers are just now trying to figure it out.
‘Logically you would think some sort of radiation exposure. The trouble is the school is built on some woodland, it’s surrounded by residential areas, and the mayor says that they really don’t have records going back further than 55 years to see what the land was used for previously.’
The state’s Department of Health, Department of Environmental Protection and the Federal Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry are also investigating.