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Former Student Believes School Has a ‘Cancer Cluster’

— April 28, 2022

Research believes his former high school caused him to be diagnosed with acoustic neuroma.

New Jersey scientist Al Lupiano has found more than 100 cases of brain tumors in individuals attending one high school over three decades, deeming the findings at Colonia High School in Woodbridge, New Jersey, to be a “cancer cluster.”  However, those closest to the matter have said that in order for the data to be referred to as a cluster, the exact cause would have to be determined and found to be consistent in all cases.  This can often be difficult.

Lupiano graduated from Colonia High School in 1989, ten years prior to being diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma.  In 2021, his wife was also diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma, the same day his sister was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme.  Both, too, attended the same school.

Lupiano’s sister, suffering from a more aggressive form of cancer, passed away in February 2022, at which time Lupiano became determined to take a deeper look at whether his family’s cancer cases might correlate with something they were exposed to at school.  Reaching out to former students on social media, more than 100 came forward along with some Colonia teachers.  They told their stories about being diagnosed with brain tumors, and in half of these cases, the tumors were cancerous.

Former Student Believes School Has a 'Cancer Cluster'
Photo by Scott Webb from Pexels

Michael Gochfeld, MD, PhD, a professor emeritus at Rutgers University’s Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, said, “In a typical cluster, experts are generally looking for the same type of cancer.  While the Colonia cases can broadly be described as brain tumors, they do involve different types of cancer.”  He added, “They’ll look at the number of cases, compared to the number expected.  If there’s a real excess, then it begins to look like a real cluster in time and in space.  If there’s not an excess, then it’s a pseudo cluster or a putative cluster, but it doesn’t meet the statistical requirements of a cluster.”

Gochfeld referred to another case in Rutherford, New Jersey in which a vast number of children developed leukemia merely by chance.  He said, “[Experts] went through very detailed questionnaires, including about their homes, their families, their upbringing, what they did in school when they were in school, and they could not find something the leukemia cases had in common that the [controls] didn’t.  So, there is an example of a true cluster, as it met the statistical criteria for being a cluster, but nonetheless, they couldn’t find the cause.  Which was certainly disappointing.”

Yet, Gochfeld added, in Toms River Township, New Jersey, investigators did find that “maternal exposure to a contaminated drinking water source was the likely culprit in a childhood leukemia cluster in that town.”

Lupiano believes the Colonia cases may have developed due to the Middlesex Sampling Plant, which served as a processing plant for uranium ore from the ‘40s to ‘60s.  In 1967, the plant was renovated and Lupiano thinks that sediment could have been hauled to where the high school would later operate.  After this time, an environmental engineering company began issuing radiation surveys at Colonia High School, and both the New Jersey Department of Health and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection said in a joint statement that they “are working with Woodbridge officials as well as CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to provide an assessment of the potential health effects.”


What Does It Take to Confirm a Cancer Cluster?

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