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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

Epidemiological team selected for Chafee study

KINGSTON, R.I. -- January 25, 2001 -- University officials and members of the Chafee Advisory Committee have selected a team of world renowned environmental health experts, all affiliated with the Boston University School of Public Health, to conduct an epidemiological study associated with the current closing and testing of the Chafee Social Science Center on the Kingston Campus.

The team will investigate whether the type and number of cancer cases among the occupants of Chafee represent an unusual rate of cancer in this building. It will examine the potential link, if any, between the PCBs found in the building and the cancer cluster. Although the list is more than likely incomplete, there have been at least 11 known cancer diagnoses among occupants of the building in the past decade, with breast cancer predominant among women who work in the building.

Richard W. Clapp, of John Snow, Inc., of Boston, Mass., formerly with the Tufts University School of Medicine, was selected as the lead epidemiologist. He earned a doctor of science degree in epidemiology from the Boston University School of Public Health in 1989 and a master's in public health from the Harvard School of Public Health in 1974.

Clapp is responsible for the establishment of the Massachusetts Cancer Registry, a statewide cancer incidence reporting system. He has held teaching appointments at Tufts University School of Medicine and Boston University, where he taught courses in environmental health and environmental epidemiology to masters and doctoral level graduate students.

David Michael Ozonoff, professor of public health and chair of the Department of Environmental Health at Boston University School of Public Health, and Lewis D. Pepper, also with the environmental health department at Boston University School of Public Health, will join the team as occupational physicians.

Pepper earned his M.D. from the University of California at San Francisco in 1981 and a master's in public health from the University of California at Berkeley in 1984. He is board certified in occupational and preventive medicine, has taught at Harvard Medical School, and has been a staff physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston.

Ozonoff earned his M.D. from Cornell University Medical College in 1967 and his master's in public health from the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health in 1968. Ozonoff is currently involved in a study of cancer incidences on Cape Cod.

"We are extremely fortunate that Ozonoff is interested," said Robert LaForge, professor of research psychology at URI and a member of the Chafee Advisory Committee. "Throughout the world, you couldn't find a more appropriate set of credentials," he added.

Patricia Morokoff, professor of psychology and also a member of the advisory committee, agreed. "I'm impressed with the relevance of his vitae to what we are trying to do," she said.

According to Jack McCarthy, of Environmental Health and Engineering (EH&E), the Newton, Mass. consultants hired to advise the University and conduct the testing of the Chafee building, all three have impressive credentials. "They are individuals who are committed to community and public health issues. They would come to the study with a 'very open mind set' about what can be accomplished here, he said.

The advisory committee reviewed the credentials and availability of about a dozen epidemiologists and occupational physicians that were recommended by EH&E over the course of the past week.

EH&E will contact team members and ask them to prepare a preliminary outline of the study for comment from the advisory committee. A meeting will then be held with the advisory committee for a discussion on how the study would proceed.

EH&E is finalizing a proposal or work plan for the Phase II testing of Chafee. Clapp, Ozonoff and Pepper are expected to review the plan prior to its implementation.

The focus of the Phase II testing will be to identify the source of the PCBs. "If we find the source or sources we will be better able to model the risk exposure in the building," said J. Vernon Wyman, assistant vice president for business services.

In addition, EH&E will perform a more detailed assessment of building materials that could possibly contain PCBs. Extensive sampling of air and surfaces will be taken in the two-story low rise and lecture hall areas to better understand why only one sample from that last round of testing showed any presence of PCBs in the dust.

Phase II testing will also involve the congener analysis to determine the specific nature of the PCBs present in one or more of the higher concentration samples. The samples will also be tested for dioxin and related compounds.

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 then notified the R.I. Department of Health of the findings and the University's decision to close the building as a precautionary measure. The Dept. of Health agreed.

URI officials 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.

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.

The EH&E Phase I tests in Chafee 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 has taken a precautionary approach by closing the building and investigating PCB sources for the purpose of reducing any exposures.

For Information: Linda A. Acciardo, (401) 874-2116,
Vern Wyman, (401) 874-5478

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