Work on Chafee Social Science Center nears completion
Weekly testing shows PCB levels well below regulatory limits
KINGSTON, R.I. -- February 11, 2001 -- Work on the Chafee Social Science Center, which has been closed a little more than a year while contractors eliminated sources of PCBs, will be completed by the end of the month.
After the cleanup and final testing is complete, a final report on the remediation project will be submitted to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
However, any transfer of faculty and staff still working in temporary offices will be held off until the completion of this spring semester to eliminate disruptions.
"With remaining displaced faculty and staff operating in functional space at this point, we felt that would give us plenty of time to finish the project, including final cleanup, painting and carpet installation," said J. Vernon Wyman, URI vice president for business services. "But I want to emphasize that the postponement is not a result of the building not meeting standards for re-occupancy. Our weekly monitoring results have consistently shown that all areas of the building fall well below the limits for PCBs."
For Wyman and the University as a whole, what a difference a year makes.
Two days before Christmas 2000, URI President Robert L. Carothers closed Chafee when tests results showed elevated levels of PCBs in dust samples taken in portions of the building.
Since then, coordination among URIs offices of business services, safety and risk management, College of Arts and Sciences, School of Education, and Enrollment Services, the state Department of Health, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the Rhode Island General Assembly, the state Division of Purchasing, and Environmental Health and Engineering, (EH&E), the consulting firm overseeing the testing, abatement and epidemiological study, has resulted in the following:
o The nature of the Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) was characterized and the sources of the PCBs were traced principally to window caulking and gaskets as well as insulation and adhesives in unit ventilators.
o A detailed remediation plan was developed by URI and approved by the EPA.
o Approvals were obtained to commit $3.8 million to the remediation plan, which included removing the building materials containing PCBs, cleaning building systems and surfaces, replacing windows and unit ventilators throughout the building, and related construction and replacement work, the epidemiological study and medical testing of Chafee workers and graduate students. The funding paid for the project oversight by EH&E as well.
o Following the remediation and cleaning process, concentrations of detectable PCBs remain below regulatory guidelines for the occupied portions of the building, according to weekly monitoring that began in August.
o Nearly all of the 220 single-pane windows in the eight-story building have been replaced by double-pane, energy efficient windows.
o New lighting fixtures and new ceilings have been installed throughout the eight-story high-rise. Workers are replacing all of the individual room ventilators, and are nearly complete. Each office occupant will now be able to regulate the temperature in his or her office.
o Walls in the low-rise section and the first two floors of the high-rise, have been cleaned and painted in public areas and new carpeting is in place in selected areas.
o Late last summer, following the removal of materials containing PCBs and the replacement of windows, gaskets and caulking, about 40 faculty and staff moved back into the low-rise sections of Chafee, and the lecture halls were returned to service. Testing of wipe samples showed no detectable levels of PCBs, while the air samples in the occupied spaces were well below the clearance standards set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
o Medical testing is being launched.
"Many, many people put in countless hours to make sure that this project was done in a diligent and timely manner so that disruptions and health concerns were dealt with as sensitively and quickly as possible," Wyman said.
During the fall of 2000, Chafee was tested at the request of building occupants for the presence of a broad array of possible contaminants, including pesticides. The results, delivered to the University on Dec. 18, 2000, did not reveal a problem with pesticides, but they did reveal the presence of PCBs, which have been linked to certain cancers.
For more background on the Chafee project, go to www.uri.edu.
For Information: Linda Acciardo 401-874-2116, Dave Lavallee 401-874-2116