From the Union-Tribune in San Diego (courtesy of the CHEEMF news group)
UCSD staff, faculty claim hazardous work environment
By David Hasemyer
11:59 a.m. February 17, 2009
UCSD epidemiologist’s report on incidences of cancer in the UCSD Literature building
LA JOLLA — A group of UC San Diego staffers and faculty members marched on campus Tuesday to protest what they call a hazardous work environment in the university’s Literature building.
Between 2000 and 2006, there have been eight reports of breast cancer among women who worked in the building, which also houses the Visual Arts and Third World Studies departments and the Dean of Arts and Humanities. Two of those women have died.
A June report commissioned by the university concluded the incidence of breast cancer among women working in the building was four to five times higher than would be expected in the general population of California.
The study, authored by UCSD epidemiologist Dr. Cedric Garland, said there is “a possibility of a mild to modest increase in risk of breast cancer” associated with working near electrical and elevator equipment rooms on the first floor.
Those who organized Tuesday’s protest said they are worried about the health of faculty members, staffers and students, and alarmed at the university’s lack of action to reduce the risk attributed to the high-current electricity.
“We need to be protecting people rather than ignoring the signs that women are at heightened risk of cancer,” said Nina Zhiri, who has taught literature at UCSD for 16 years. Marching through the building starting around 11:30 a.m., the protesters chanted and went into classrooms, asking students to joing them for a march through campus. Some wore surgical scrubs, some wore pink ribbons in honor of breast cancer awareness. Patricia Sohn, a UCSD junior who is minoring in literature, said she worries for her professors and others who work in the building. “I feel really strongly about having a safe environment, and I feel it’s the chancellor’s responsibility to provide a safe environment,” Sohn, 20, said.
Steve Benedict, director of the university’s Environment, Health and Safety Office, said the school is not unconcerned with what he called the “preliminary” findings of the June report issued.
“The university is deeply committed to the health and safety of all of its employees in every building and work space,” Benedict said in a written statement. “The University remain(s) determined to seek further expertise to protect the health and safety of the building’s occupants.” He said a world-renowned expert in the study of electromagnetic fields from the World Health Organization started a two-month investigation Feb. 8.
In the meantime the elevators have been shut down and several offices on the first floor have been vacated. All of the power for the building passes though a small electrical room on the first floor, which is next door to the elevator equipment room and the powerful motors that draw huge amounts of kilowatts, according to the report. Both of those rooms are less than 100 feet away from where many of the women with breast cancer worked, according to the report. Garland’s report said the electrometric field in the hallway outside the electrical room was five times greater than what would be expected in a home environment and jumped to 12 times greater when the electric motors on the elevators were running. Exposure to those levels are not prohibited by any U.S. safety standards, according to the report. Nevertheless those increased electrometric fields “could have an impact, albeit perhaps modest, on risk of breast cancer,” according to the report.
The faculty has given the university a list of 14 repairs they believe will mitigate the dangers expressed in the report. Among the work suggested is replacing the elevators, installing air conditioning throughout the building to control mold and re-roofing the structure to prevent leaks.
While Zhiri said she appreciates the university’s commitment to further investigation, there should be no delays in remediation while those studies are being done. “Waiting any longer for an additional study is unacceptable to those who work and study in the building,” she said.