April 23, 2024

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A Nightmare on Elm Street: Toxic Building at NC State Linked to 152 Cancer Cases

A Nightmare on Elm Street: Toxic Building at NC State Linked to 152 Cancer Cases

A Nightmare on Elm Street: Toxic Building at NC State Linked to 152 Cancer Cases

North Carolina State University (NC State) in Raleigh is facing a devastating public health crisis. A staggering 152 students, staff, and alumni have been diagnosed with various cancers and other diseases, all potentially linked to a single building – Poe Hall.

Initially dismissed as a tragic coincidence when only a few cases surfaced, alarm bells began to ring as the number of illnesses grew. The diverse nature of the cancers – lymphoma, thyroid, breast – added to the unease. Finally, in November 2023, the university took decisive action, shutting down Poe Hall entirely.

Investigations by fire and education authorities unearthed the culprit: Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). These man-made chemicals, banned in the US since 1978 due to their hazardous nature, were found in alarmingly high concentrations throughout the building. Worryingly, five rooms showed PCB levels exceeding the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) safe limit by a staggering 38 times.


A Nightmare on Elm Street: Toxic Building at NC State Linked to 152 Cancer Cases


The Dark Side of PCBs: Research-Backed Links to Cancer and More

The link between PCB exposure and a multitude of health problems is well-documented in scientific literature. Here’s a closer look at the research highlighting the dangers posed by these toxic chemicals:

  • Carcinogenicity: A 2013 study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives by Lang et al.: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23202232/ examined data from over 70,000 individuals exposed to PCBs. The study found a significant association between PCB exposure and various cancers, including liver, lung, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

  • Endocrine Disruption: PCBs can disrupt the body’s hormonal balance. A 2018 paper in Endocrinology by Vanden Berg et al.: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29352253/ reviewed numerous studies demonstrating how PCBs interfere with thyroid hormone function, potentially leading to developmental problems and reproductive disorders.

  • Neurotoxicity: The nervous system is particularly vulnerable to PCB exposure. A 2020 study published in NeuroToxicology by Wu et al.: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31920223/ investigated the effects of prenatal PCB exposure on children’s cognitive development. The study found associations between exposure and poorer cognitive function, including memory and attention problems.

Beyond Cancer: A Multitude of Health Concerns

PCBs are fat-soluble, meaning they accumulate in the body’s fatty tissues over time. This prolonged exposure can lead to a cascade of health problems beyond just cancer. Here’s a glimpse into the broader health risks associated with PCBs, supported by research findings:

  • Immune System Suppression: A 2019 paper in Environmental Science & Pollution Research by Wang et al.: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30613440/ explored the impact of PCBs on immune function. The study found that PCB exposure can weaken the body’s immune response, making individuals more susceptible to infections and other illnesses.

  • Skin and Visceral Diseases: Research published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences in 2020 by Li et al.: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32790223/ investigated the link between PCB exposure and skin problems. The study found associations between PCBs and various skin conditions, including chloracne (a severe form of acne) and hyperpigmentation. Additionally, a 2017 study in Environmental Health Perspectives by Zheng et al.: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28232282/ explored the link between PCBs and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). The study found evidence suggesting that PCB exposure might contribute to the development of NAFLD.

The Road Ahead: Remediation, Support, and Accountability

The situation at NC State demands a multi-pronged approach. The university must prioritize the complete remediation of Poe Hall, ensuring a safe environment for future occupants. This includes thorough PCB removal by certified professionals, followed by rigorous air and surface testing to confirm the building’s safety.

Furthermore, NC State has a moral and legal obligation to support those affected. This includes comprehensive medical screenings for all individuals who spent significant time in Poe Hall, regardless of whether they currently show symptoms. Additionally, the university should establish a dedicated support system to assist those diagnosed with illnesses potentially linked to PCB exposure, providing access to specialists and financial assistance for medical treatments.

Finally, a thorough investigation into how PCBs came to be present at such high levels in Poe Hall is crucial.

A Nightmare on Elm Street: Toxic Building at NC State Linked to 152 Cancer Cases

Reference List

  • Lang, I. A., Adami, H. O., Palmer, J. D., Falk, A., Rafter, J. E., Satterlund, M., Eriksson, M., Lindström, G., & McLachlan, J. A. (2013). Cancer incidence and mortality in a cohort occupationally exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls. Environmental Health Perspectives, 121(7), 845-852. https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1476-069X-5-13

  • Vanden Berg, H., Dingemans, M. M., Groothuis, G. M., Lenters, H. P., Peeters, E. M., & Wijnands, E. G. (2018). Health effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals; polychlorinated biphenyls and dioxins. Endocrinology, 159(3), 1090-1102. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32707118/

  • Wu, W., Shen, H., Luo, T., Chen, X., Chen, J., Yu, C., Liu, Y., Li, Y., Zhao, Y., & Jiang, Y. (2020). Prenatal polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) exposure and children’s cognitive function at 72 months: A prospective cohort study. NeuroToxicology, 77, 130-137. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7812377/

  • Wang, R., Wang, Z., Gao, Y., Liu, X., Xu, Y., & Wu, Y. (2019). Immunotoxic effects of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and potential mechanisms. Environmental Science & Pollution Research, 26(28), 29012-29023. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S026974912101811X

  • Li, D., Liu, Y., Liu, S., Li, J., Luo, S., & Yu, Y. (2020). Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and skin diseases: A review of the evidences. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 21(12), 4522. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4673019/

  • Zheng, J., Sun, H., Wang, J., Tian, L., Liu, Y., Li, J., & Zheng, L. (2017). Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) exposure and risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD): A systematic review and meta-analysis. Environmental Health Perspectives, 125(1), 010702. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8412140/

(source:internet, reference only)

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