Chafee Air Sample Results Encouraging;
Faculty, Staff Express Health Concerns
KINGSTON, R.I. -- January 5, 2001 -- Results of air sample testing in the Chafee Social Science Center building were released to a group of about 140 faculty and staff by J. Vernon Wyman, URI's assistant vice president for business services, at a meeting held Friday, Jan. 5 at 1 p.m. in the Galanti Lounge of the URI Library.
"The results are encouraging," said Wyman. The results of the indoor air samples were negative for PCBs (or showed no detectable levels of PCBs) in the large lecture hall section of the building and in the two-story low-rise portion of Chafee. In the eight-story office tower section of Chafee there were detectable levels of between 0.2 and 0.5 micrograms per cubic meter of air.
Federal OSHA guidelines set 500 micrograms per cubic meter as a permissible limit. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, which advises OSHA, recommends no more than 1.0 microgram per cubic meter of air as a permissible limit.
The remaining wipe and materials sample tests are still being evaluated and results are expected to be available early next week.
"Obviously, we do not have all of the results, nor do we have risk assessment at this point," added Wyman.
The consultant hired to conduct the testing, Environmental Health and Engineering of Newton, Mass., is still waiting for results from labs in New York and Massachusetts.
A meeting has been scheduled with faculty and staff on Tuesday, January 9 at 9 a.m. in the Biological Sciences Building Auditorium to provide the remaining test results.
"With the approval of the R.I. Department of Health, we will again provide limited access to the building for faculty and staff to secure personal and professional belongings," added Wyman. A cleaning station will be set up also on Tuesday beginning at 8:30 a.m. with trained personnel to wipe down and vacuum materials brought out of the building.
Faculty and staff at the meeting expressed concerns about health ailments, medical testing, and the link between PCBs and cancer. Wyman told the group that the University has made a commitment to bring in an epidemiologist, and has asked its consultant to identify by early next week several experts who deal with cancer clusters.
"Beyond the building's test results, we know there are health concerns. I understand that people are asking themselves 'what is the potential effect on my health,' that's the biggest question, and that's not measured in micrograms per cubic meter," he said. "We are trying to build a base of information that allows us to get to these answers."
Some occupants of Chafee also expressed reservations about relocating to Ballentine Hall, the building currently slated for renovation that could be used as a resource for classroom and office space when the spring semester begins on January 16. University officials have contracted with Rhode Island Analytical of Warwick, to conduct a health assessment on Ballentine Hall prior to any relocation of faculty and staff.
Regardless of test results on Ballentine, one audience member who indicated he represented 13 faculty in the psychology department said that the group does not consider Ballentine an option, nor would they re-enter Chafee unless a list of conditions are met.
Winifred Brownell, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said "we are not going to force anybody to go into Ballentine. We are all looking for other options." Wyman added that Ballentine, once tested and if cleared, is a resource that is needed and that will be used in the interim.
"We have a cleanup to do in Chafee," said Wyman. "We will not have Chafee available to us for the beginning of the semester," Wyman added.
Blair Lord, vice provost of academic affairs, told the group that the large lecture classes in Chafee Hall can be accommodated without Chafee or Ballentine Hall. He continues to work on a contingency plan for some of the smaller classes held in Chafee.
More than 100 samples, including 35 air samples, were taken to determine the extent of the presence of PCBs in the indoor environment, the source of the PCBs, and an initial assessment of the potential exposure risks to occupants.
For Information: Linda A. Acciardo: (401) 874-2116,
Vern Wyman: (401) 874-5478, Winnie Brownell (401) 874-4101