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Initial results show no health hazards in Wescoe Hall

An initial comprehensive environmental indoor air quality report on Wescoe Hall indicates the 33-year-old building has pockets of zero airflow but no abnormal concentrations of organic compounds.

"The data does not indicate substantial differences between the inside and outside air for microbial, electromagnetic fields, radon or other chemicals analyzed," according to the report by Albert Stewart of Stewart Industrial Hygiene and Safety Inc. of Kansas City, Mo.

"This is a safe building based on the findings to date in this investigation," said Stewart, who is a certified industrial hygienist and hazard control manager.

Stewart's report was presented in a meeting to staff who work in the building. University officials have begun work to correct problems with stagnant airflow and other ventilation issues.

KU has asked Stewart to do additional tests to determine the source of formaldehyde, a common indoor air pollutant, that was found in small quantities in some rooms.

The levels detected, ranging from 13 to 33 parts per billion, are far below the Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards of 750 parts per billion and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists recommended guideline of 300 parts per billion.

KU initiated the air quality study in June as part of a full epidemiological investigation to address a Wescoe Hall occupant's concerns about anecdotal information that over the past decade five people with offices in the building reportedly have been diagnosed with brain tumors, two of them benign. Approximately 400 people have offices in the 181,635-square-foot building during an academic year.

Because the levels in eight of 13 rooms do slightly exceed the guideline of 16 parts per billion recommended by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Stewart will check levels again in the next few weeks. The new tests will compare levels as steps are taken to increase air flow within the building.

The epidemiological investigation, led by nationally known epidemiologist John Neuberger, is continuing. Neuberger is now beginning the process of contacting current and former building occupants and results of his study are expected in early 2007.

Neuberger is an environmental epidemiologist in the KU School of Medicine's Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health with a principal interest in cancer. He has served as a safety and occupational health reviewer for the National Institutes of Health and for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. He has conducted a number of epidemiological studies involving indoor air quality issues and cancer clusters, including radon and lung cancer, brain cancer and cancer incidence and mortality in areas near commercial hazardous waste burners.

Neuberger has assembled a team of highly qualified researchers from the medical school and an industrial hygienist to assist in the study. Staff members from the Lawrence campus' Department of Environment, Health and Safety will serve as liaisons to Neuberger's team.

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