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NC State University Building Investigated for Manmade Organic Chemicals (PCBs) Causing Cancer

student walking

In November 2023, the Poe Hall building, which is the College of Education and Psychology Department at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, was tested positive for the presence of manmade organic chemicals known as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).1

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PCBs are have been shown to cause cancer in animals and many other adverse health effects in animals including negative effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, and endocrine system. Studies in humans also support evidence for potential carcinogenic and other toxic effects of PCBs. PCBs were manufactured in the United States from 1929 until manufacturing was banned in 1979.2

At least 150 students and staff at North Carolina State University were diagnosed with cancers and other illnesses, which initiated concerns about the building in November 2023. These individuals believe that their illnesses were caused by exposure to the toxins found at Poe Hall. Many have been diagnosed with diseases including lymphoma, thyroid, and breast cancers. It was found that PCB levels in five rooms at Poe Hall were more than 38 times the EPA’s standards for building materials.3

University Alumnus Has Thyroid Cancer and Angiosarcoma

Christine Lewis, a North Carolina State University alumnus was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2012. A few months later, she was also diagnosed with angiosarcoma. She said she was unaware that she was exposed to PCBs while attending the university. She stated:

I could have never made that connection by myself because I didn’t know anybody else. I was the only one in my little cohort of classmates who had cancer when I was in college. And I just thought that something was just wrong with my body. That something was wrong with me. I have four siblings, and everybody’s so healthy except for me.

Lewis said that when she saw news reports regarding the potential link between cancer and Poe Hall, she thought…

Maybe my body isn’t the problem. Maybe I was actually exposed to something that caused this. I don’t know, it definitely shook me a little bit.4

North Carolina State University is now facing lawsuits from the students and staff diagnosed with cancer.1

Older Buildings Built with Monsanto Materials Containing PCBs May Still Contain the Chemicals

Poe Hall was built in 1971 during the time period when these chemicals were used in building materials. The EPA has stated that PCBs were developed in 1929 and were widely used in the manufacture of transformers, capacitors, and other heat transfer devices through the late 1970s, after which they were banned in 1979 under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Although no longer commercially produced in the U.S., PCBs may be present in products and materials produced before the 1979 ban. Products that may contain PCBs include plastic, caulking, transformers, capacitors, floor finish, fluorescent bulb ballasts, etc. 6

Ben Whitley, an attorney at Whitley Law Firm in Raleigh, North Carolina said his law firm plans on filing a law suit against Monsanto, which is the manufacturer of the materials that contained PCBs used in the construction of Poe Hall. He stated:

Unfortunately, I think we’re going to see it more and more in these buildings that were built during that range—1971 to 1979. That’s when the PCBs were around. They were being used in caulking and insulation and they were like this wonder material.7

NC Cancer Cases Not Yet Considered a “Cancer Cluster”

As of now, the cancer cases have not been officially linked to the presence of PCBs in Poe Hall and, according to US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials, the Poe Hall cancer cases cannot yet be considered a “cancer cluster.”8 According to officials at the CDC and the National Cancer Institute (NCI):

a cancer cluster refers to the occurrence of a greater than expected number of cancer cases among a group of people in a defined geographic area over a specific time period. A cancer cluster may be suspected when people report that several family members, friends, neighbors, or coworkers have been diagnosed with the same or related types of cancer.9

The NCI said that since cancer is a relatively common disease, cases of cancer in a particular geographical location may be a “coincidence.” Some cancer clusters have been identified through investigation to be caused by a specific cancer-causing substance in the environment. However, NCI officials said that such findings are rare.10


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