URI Closes Building on Kingston Campus

KINGSTON, R.I. — DECEMBER 23, 2000 — The University of Rhode is in the process of notifying faculty, staff and students that the Chafee Social Science Building will be closed as of 5 p.m. Saturday, December 23. Recent test results show elevated levels of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) found in soils outside and sections of the interior of the high rise office building on the Kingston Campus. Further testing must be done throughout the building to determine potential exposure risks to its occupants. “The University is closing the building as a precautionary measure and moving aggressively to complete air and materials testing without interruption,” said Vern Wyman, assistant vice president for business services. “We still need to take a full battery of tests to determine exposure risks. At this point, we do not know the source of the PCBs.” The American Council on Science and Health states that “several regulatory and advisory agencies have categorized PCBs as animal carcinogens; however, studies of workers exposed to high doses of PCBs over long periods of time have not demonstrated an increased cancer risk. In fact, the only health effects that could be attributed to PCBs were skin and eye irritation. The building will remain closed at least until January 8, 2001. Students are currently on winter break and the spring semester begins Tuesday, January 16, 2001. The testing was commissioned by the University and conducted in July, August, November and December by an external consulting firm, Rhode Island Analytical Laboratories Inc. of Warwick. Testing included water, air and materials in the building, soil samples, and control samples on campus. The results of the soils and interior tests were delivered to the University on December 18. All other tests were within safe limits. Wyman immediately contacted the Harvard School of Public Health for a consultation on the findings from John Spengler, a renowned expert on indoor air quality. Spengler’s office referred Wyman to Environmental Health and Engineering of Newton, MA. A representative from the company, one of the top environmental testing firms in the country, was brought to campus on December 21 to tour the building and review the findings. The Newton based firm will submit a Phase I scope of work by next Wednesday, December 27 and commence the additional battery of tests. Senior URI administrators were notified on December 21 of the findings and a decision was made on December 22 to close the building. The University then notified the R.I. Department of Health, which concurred and commended the University for its initiatives. Approximately 175 faculty and staff work in Chafee, which houses the offices of the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the departments of sociology and anthropology, psychology, philosophy, education, economics, journalism, and the Psychological Consultation Center, the Instructional Technology and Media Services office, the Instructional Development Program, four lecture halls, classrooms, research rooms and computer labs. For Information: Linda A. Acciardo, (401) 874-2116, Vern Wyman, (401) 874-5478,