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Today Final Report evaluation of the brain tumour cluster in RMIT Building 108 ( see previous messages on the RMIT brain tumour cluster) has been released and lo and behold the brain tumour cluster has magically disappeared. All is well and good – the people with brain tumours should be relieved, for according to the calculations by RMIT’s independent experts, the amount of brain tumours on floor 17 is not really out of the ordinary. To quote: “The number of health issues in Building 108 are within normal expectations and there is no evidence to suggest they are linked to the workplace.” And to really settle the issue for once and for all: “the outcome of the investigation does not indicate a need for ongoing health monitoring.”
The Vice-Chancellor has now opened Floors 16 and 17 and expects the staff to move back.
See: http://www.rmit.edu.au/news/b108/update for the Final Report and other documents. This may be their Final Report but I wonder if the people who are now asked to go back to work on level 17 will happily accept it? Before this issue is closed and the staff “asked” to go back to work on Level 17, it is vital that the two final reports need independent review by experts not beholding to RMIT. To this end I have sent it out widely for comment. So stay tuned!
The relevant reports are as follows:
Southern Medical Services Report
Report of the Independent Review Panel
Here’s the statement from the Vice-Chancellor of RMIT University, Professor Margaret Gardner
( http://www.rmit.edu.au/browse;ID=bhq48h2x2p5zz )
August 2, 2006
“I am pleased to be able to report on what has been a comprehensive series of tests and assessments relating to health problems in RMIT University’s Building 108.
Dr John Gall, of Southern Medical Services, and Associate Professor Tony LaMontagne of the University of Melbourne, a VicHealth Principal Research Fellow and chair of the independent panel reviewing Dr Gall’s report and the earlier environmental testing, today briefed me, other RMIT University executives and senior academics, the National Tertiary Education Union and the Australian Education Union on the findings of Dr Gall’s report into health issues at Building 108.
The findings have also been made available to staff members who have been diagnosed with brain tumours. This afternoon, we are presenting the information to staff in Building 108. Dr Gall’s report will also be made available to other RMIT staff, to students, the media and the public.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the RMIT community, and in particular the staff and students in Building 108, for whom the past few months have been a trying and sometimes emotional time. When colleagues fall ill, none of us can fail to be affected, and we remain concerned to support staff with health problems.
Dr Gall finds that, based on the available information, there is no brain tumour cluster on floors 16 and 17. A cluster is a greater-than-expected number of tumour cases that occur within a group of people in a geographical area over a period of time. The number of staff with brain tumours who have worked on floors 16 and 17 is four (three of which are benign and one malignant). No additional cases have been reported.
As with any large workplace, there are staff with health problems, some serious. Dr Gall reports that among past and present staff on level 16 and 17, nine people have tumours other than brain tumours. Three are benign and six are malignant.
Given the size and age of the workforce on those two floors, Dr Gall would have expected to find 6.75 staff members with malignant tumours of all kinds. The actual number is seven. The panel of experts agrees with Dr Gall that this slight difference is not statistically significant.
Dr Gall reports that while the number of benign tumours on the two floors is a little higher than statewide statistics would indicate, this is probably due to the fact that benign tumours are generally under-reported to health authorities.
In drawing up his report, Dr Gall looked at four factors:
* An epidemiological study. He concludes that: “The small number of malignant tumours observed, the absence of statistical differences between the observed and expected numbers, and the range of tumour types included, provide no statistical evidence for the presence of a cluster of malignant tumours.
* An assessment of tumour type. Dr Gall has reported that there is no predominant tumour type, with 10 different tumour types identified among 12 current or former staff. The patient age at which the tumours were diagnosed is within the age group expected for those tumours within the general population.
* Environmental studies for potential carcinogens. Dr Gall’s report should be read in conjunction with the comprehensive environmental testing carried out in May, which found there were no anomalies on levels 16 and 17 and that all readings of air and water quality, of radiofrequencies and of potential contaminants were well within national guidelines.
* Consideration of latency periods. Dr Gall reports that most staff members on floors 16 and 17 diagnosed with tumours have been working in Building 108 for less time than is generally associated with the development of such illnesses and that therefore there is little likelihood of a connection between the tumours and the building.
Dr Gall’s opinion and the earlier environmental testing has been endorsed by the independent review panel of experts, whose composition was mutually agreed by RMIT and the two unions. The four-person panel comprises the chair, Associate Professor LaMontagne, and three experts in epidemiology and occupational health and safety.
RMIT has now carried out some of the most comprehensive health and environmental testing in the country. We will continue with regular environmental tests. But we will also now encourage staff to return to their normal offices and work stations on levels 16 and 17.
RMIT counsellors will help staff work through any concerns they have about moving back to their workplace. RMIT will be patient with staff who would like time to support this decision.
RMIT University is very grateful for the patience shown by staff and students in Building 108 alike, which has enabled a thorough study to be completed and reviewed. The last few months have been stressful and I thank everyone for their strength and their willingness to put up with some uncertainty and disruption.”