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University Relations

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June 6, 2006
Contact: Todd Cohen, University Relations, (785) 864-8858.

Environmental health expert to evaluate Wescoe Hall

LAWRENCE — University of Kansas Senior Vice Provost Kathleen McCluskey-Fawcett today announced that John Neuberger, a nationally known epidemiologist in the KU School of Medicine’s Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, will conduct a study on whether Wescoe Hall’s physical environment can be linked to health concerns.

“We have no reason to believe there are environmental hazards in Wescoe that could cause serious illness,” McCluskey-Fawcett said. “However, we are exercising an abundance of caution and have asked Dr. Neuberger to do a thorough, epidemiological evaluation.

“We care about our employees and want a full, objective review. If any significant problem is identified, we will take immediate action.”

Officials will meet with Wescoe faculty and staff this week to explain the epidemiological investigation, which will consist of air-quality tests and an epidemiological survey of building occupants. Information about the study will be sent to Wescoe Hall occupants who cannot attend the meeting or who are gone for the summer. The study will take place over the next seven months, with results reported to the university in early 2007.

McCluskey-Fawcett said KU commissioned the study 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. University officials met with the occupant in April shortly after the concerns were expressed. Approximately 400 people have offices in the 181,635-square-foot building during an academic year.

Neuberger is an environmental epidemiologist 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.

KU has reported the concern raised in April to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, which has offered assistance to KU and Neuberger.

Wescoe Hall opened in 1973. A $3.5 million renovation is planned to enclose the south terrace of the building, adding 24,000 square feet of office space with windows.

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The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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