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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

Chafee Hall Epidemiological Study and Plans Progress

KINGSTON, R.I. -- July 13, 2001 -- The Chafee Advisory Committee has been finalizing methods and procedures to guide the epidemiological team that will investigate whether the cancer cases among some employees of the Chafee Social Science Center represent unusual rates of cancer. The study will compare the health, cancer types, and rates of current and former occupants of the Chafee Social Science Center to data for national and state populations.

On June 12, the advisory committee met for two hours to review a draft of the epidemiological plan developed by Environmental Health & Engineering (EH&E) and the epidemiology team. Alden K. Henderson, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, also attended the meeting. He came not as a representative of the CDC, but to volunteer his expertise in this area and offer input to the plan.

Henderson described the draft plan and approach as "sound and solid." However, he cautioned that a retrospective cohort study, in which the study population’s health is compared against the general population, might not yield a great deal of conclusive information. The group agreed not to rule out another level of study nor to commit to one until the results of this first phase are available.

The meeting also included members of the R.I. Department of Health; Richard Clapp, of John Snow Inc., formerly with the Tufts University School of Medicine; Lewis D. Pepper, a member of the Environmental Health Department at Boston University; Kevin Coghlan, technical director of Environmental Health and Engineering of Newton, Mass. and Donna J. Vorhees, a senior scientist and environmental risk assessment consultant from Menza Curi Associates.

Clapp and Pepper are members of the epidemiological team, along with David Michael Ozonoff, chair of the Department of Environmental Health at Boston University.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the advisory committee asked that the epidemiological team finalize a detailed plan for a first phase epidemiological study and a University-funded medical testing opportunity for current and former Chafee employees, including staff, faculty and graduate students.

A productive work session was then held on June 29 in Newton, Mass., attended by the epidemiological team, the EH&E consultants, and representatives from the University’s Science Advisory Group assisting the Chafee Advisory Committee.

Specific tasks and assignments were identified and initiated, including the development of applications to the Institutional Review Boards at Boston University, where the team is affiliated, and the University of Rhode Island to assure that the plans satisfy the strict standards set for human subjects research. The University is responsible for compiling the list of current and past employees and graduate assistants. In addition to computer-based records, URI staff will access maintenance department records and archived phone books.

At the request of members of the advisory committee, children born and/or breastfed while their mothers worked in Chafee will be offered the medical tests as well.

"Professionals have recommended medical testing that involves a blood serum analysis. Blood tests are clinically sound and less invasive than other tests such as adapose tissue testing. Participation in the testing will be completely voluntary and is offered as a service to the community," said Wyman.

"Experts have advised us that testing will show levels of PCBs, but not whether the PCBs are from Chafee or what the levels mean in terms of health effects," he added.

The team will develop a survey to accompany the testing process to assist in the interpretation of the results. People's diets and former places of work and residence can influence the "body burden" or levels of PCBs in the body.

The University expects to announce details of the medical testing plan in early fall.

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

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