KINGSTON, R.I. -- February 20, 2001 -- Environmental Health and Engineering (EH&E), the Newton, Mass., firm hired by URI to conduct environmental testing of the Chafee Social Science Center, collected a second round of samples in the building on Friday, February 16 and Saturday, February 17.
EH&Es Phase II investigation is designed to identify potential building-related source(s) of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the indoor environment. The Phase II effort will assist URI in determining the source(s) of the PCB residues detected in the building and includes testing for dioxin and furan congeners in building dust. (Congener analysis is used to develop a profile of the chemical mixture of PCBs, dioxin and furans).
"The focus of this effort is the identification of the source(s) of PCBs that have been detected within the building, especially in the hi-rise section," said J. Vernon Wyman, assistant vice president for business services.
EH&E conducted a detailed review of building plans and specifications to develop an inventory of suspect materials for Phase II sampling. The draft of the Phase II proposal was submitted by EH&E to URI and reviewed by the Science Subcommittee of the Chafee Advisory Committee. EH&E revised the proposal to incorporate the subcommittees input before proceeding with the second round of sample collection.
The firm collected approximately 40 bulk samples of building-related materials for analysis. The samples will be sent tomorrow to a Massachusetts laboratory and processed for a five to seven day turnaround. Those materials with elevated PCB readings will be evaluated further at a North Carolina lab to identify individual PCB congeners (or forms of PCBs). It will take about three weeks for this congener analysis.
Five indoor dust samples were collected in the hi-rise section, from locations where previous tests have shown elevated levels in dust. Five additional samples were collected from the low-rise and the lecture hall areas. Samples with elevated PCB readings will also be sent to the North Carolina lab for PCB, dioxin, and furan congener analysis. The results of the bulk sampling and analysis will be reviewed and compared to the PCB congener data from the dust samples collected.
"We are looking to compare potential source materials with the dust samples to determine from where the PCBs are originating," said Wyman. These data will also assist in developing the relevant risk assessment strategies for exposure evaluation and establishing re-occupancy criteria, he added.
This portion of the investigation also included an assessment of the airflow and air transfer dynamics of the hi-rise section of the building.Measurements were taken on each floor of the hi-rise, again to assist in identifying the point of origin of PCBs.
"This part of the investigation addresses only one aspect of a more comprehensive Phase II plan that will include epidemiological and medical evaluations," said Wyman. The evaluations will be designed by the epidemiological team, which is expected to meet with the Chafee Advisory Committee next week to review the outline of the study.
The team includes world-renowned environmental health experts affiliated with the Boston University School of Public Health: Richard W. Clapp, of John Snow, Inc., of Boston, Mass., formerly with the Tufts University School of Medicine, the lead epidemiologist; 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, board certified in occupational and preventive medicine, formerly with Harvard Medical School, and a staff physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston.
Wyman met with the team January 31 and provided them with background information, a history of the Chafee building, and a sequence of events leading up to the closing of the building on December 23. The team indicated that they will need formal approvals to access medical information for the study from the broad range of occupants of the building from maintenance staff to faculty and staff, student workers, and students taking classes in the building.
The team, which also received the Phase I test results, 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 and other illnesses. The team will also be asked to advise the University and the occupants of Chafee with regard to medical testing.
It is expected that the team will define the nature of the information needed, the method of collection, and the quality standards. The University would then collect the actual data to be reviewed by the team.
At the last meeting of the advisory committee on February 7, Wyman reviewed the discussions that took place on January 31 with the EH&E consultants and the epidemiological team. Wyman also notified the advisory committee that EH&E has been in contact with the Environmental Protection Agency, Region I, which is required to review and approve the risk assessment and remediation plan.
John King, geochemical oceanographer and member of the advisory committee, recommended that the University also consult with the URI Human Subjects Committee. Wyman agreed to follow-up with the suggestion.
For additional information, please contact J. Vernon Wyman at 874-7435; Winifred Brownell at 874-4101; or Linda A. Acciardo at 874-2116.
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. The University 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.
On the same day the building was closed, URI notified the campus community, -- faculty, staff and students and the general public of the situation. An internal advisory committee was established, consisting of either occupants of the building or individuals with a specific health or science expertise to bear on the situation. It was created so that the process could involve those most directly affected.
URI officials contracted with EH&E, a Newton, Mass., firm affiliated with the Harvard University School of Public Health, to conduct additional testing.
The 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.
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.
A web page has been developed devoted exclusively to the Chafee closing and it is accessible via the URI home page at www.uri.edu.