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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Questions and answers about the closing
of the Chafee Social Science Center

Why was the Chafee Social Science Center building closed?

At the request of building occupants, Chafee was tested for the presence of a broad array of possible contaminants, including pesticides, during the fall of 2000. The results were delivered to the University on Dec. 18 and did not reveal a problem with pesticides, but did detect the presence of PCBs. URI President Robert L. Carothers made the decision to close the building on Dec. 23 in consultation with top managers. The University contracted with Environmental Health and Engineering, Inc., (EH&E), a Newton, Mass firm affiliated with the Harvard University School of Public Health, to conduct additional testing. "We want to reassure all members of our community that we are taking swift and precautionary action to investigate this issue thoroughly," said J. Vernon Wyman, assistant vice president of business services.

What are PCBs?

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are a mixture of individual chemicals no longer produced in the United States, but which are still found in the environment. According to the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Service's Public Health Service, the manufacture of PCBs stopped in the United States in 1977 because of evidence that they build up in the environment and cause harmful effects. PCBs don't burn easily and are good insulating material, and they have been widely used as coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors and other electrical equipment.

What did the tests in Chafee show?

The tests confirmed the presence of PCBs in some areas and detected no PCBs in other areas. The tests done by EH&E on wipe samples (dust wiped off of indoor surfaces) showed no detectable levels of PCBs in any of the four lecture halls or the eight-story office tower. Two of three wipe samples in the two-story, low-rise portion of the building showed no detectable levels of PCBs. The third sample was slightly above the limit of detection.

The air samples from the lobby, lecture halls and the low-rise section of the building did not have detectable levels of PCBs. PCBs were detected in air samples from the high-rise section of the building comprised mostly of faculty offices. These levels were well below government limits for indoor air. Tests done on materials, such as dust and ceiling tiles, detected PCBs in some areas of both the high-rise and low-rise sections of the building. There are no established government limits on PCB presence in indoor materials available for comparative purposes.

While it is common to detect PCBs in buildings given their widespread use in electrical equipment and some building materials, the University is taking a precautionary approach by closing the building and investigating PCB sources for the purpose of reducing any exposures.

How can PCBs affect my health?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services publishes information on how PCBs can affect your health at the following website:

Can I get tested to see if I have been exposed?

There is a blood test that can be used to assess PCB levels in the bloodstream. Such a test, however, will not indicate the source of exposure or your likelihood of suffering any negative health effects. Since PCBs are widespread in the environment, it is likely that everyone has experienced at least low-level exposure to PCBs.

The University is hiring an epidemiologist to develop a plan to better understand potential concerns. There will be further announcements on the epidemiological analysis and whether testing of individuals is recommended as part of that study.

What will happen to the Chafee building now?

Chafee will remain closed at least for the next 10 to 12 weeks. During this time there will be additional analysis and testing to identify the source of PCBs and determine an initial assessment of the potential risks to occupants. There will be further announcements regarding the results of these assessments. Once a source or sources have been identified and the testing is completed, the building will undergo a special cleaning process and it will be tested again to establish that it is safe to reoccupy.

What if I have a class in Chafee?

Classes that were scheduled for Chafee have been moved to other locations on campus. Faculty and staff offices have also been moved to other buildings. Students and faculty have all been instructed to check the URI homepage at and click on the ARIES link for up-do-date class locations. If you still have unanswered questions, contact the Enrollment Services 874-9500 or the News Bureau at 874-2116.

How can I reach my instructor by phone if his/her office was in Chafee?

You can call the department offices at their regular numbers listed in the campus directory, and staff there can direct you to your instructor. Even though all the academic and administrative units in Chafee now have temporary homes, they can be called using the numbers listed in the campus directory. The same is true for the dean's office of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Where should I go for more information?

The URI Website at ,
Health Services, (401) 874-2246
Dean of Arts and Sciences, Winifred Brownell , (401) 874-4101
Assist. Vice President, Business Services, J. Vern Wyman, (401) 874-5478
Director of Communications, Linda A. Acciardo, (401) 874-2116

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Copyright 2001 University of Rhode Island. All rights reserved. Disclaimer.
Page last revised on Monday, July 23, 2001 .