Wednesday, February 25, 2009

UCSD Cancer Scare

Take notes, UCSC students: this is how protests are supposed to work.

This is a picture from a protest last week at one of UCSC's sister schools, UC San Diego (UCSD). You see, there is some evidence for the existence of a cancer cluster in one of UCSD's buildings. Apparently, there have been eight cases of breast cancer reported by workers in this building since 2000.

Now this is an upsetting story, but it gets even more troublesome for Fosco with the revelation that the offending building is the home of the Literature Department. Fosco's program at UCSC is also a Literature (as opposed to English) program, and so he feels a kinship here. Not to mention that Fosco knows several people in the UCSD program--including one of Fosco's intellectual heroes. These are Fosco's peeps that are in danger!

According to an epidemiological research report commissioned by UCSD, there is a very low probability that this type of thing happened by chance:

the observed incidence of invasive breast cancer in the Literature Building was about 4-5 times the expected incidence in the California general population.
As the report goes on to note (with typical scientific detachment):
Estimated relative risks in the range that was observed suggest that the cluster was worthy of closer epidemiological scrutiny.
So what exactly is going on in UCSD's Literature Building (I mean, besides reading, writing, and cut-throat departmental politics--all the usual things)?

Here is the offending structure:

From the outside it does indeed look safe, unless you are easily-pained by bad architecture. The epidemiological report ruled out mold, water contamination, and chemical causes. Rather, the potential culprit could be electromagnetic fields from the elevator banks. Of course, it's hard to tell for sure: the fact that a recent study has demonstrated no link between EMFs and breast cancer further complicates matters. Even so, UCSD has already taken some steps to reduce exposure to the elevator fields--just to be on the safe side.

However, students, faculty, and employees remain concerned that UCSD's response remains insufficient. I can't blame them--if I worked in the building, I would be demanding that UCSD either
  • demolish it
  • go all "X-Files" and quarantine the whole place (complete with guys in hazmat suits).
Of course, with the UC budget crunch, neither of these things will happen. UCSD is making a high stakes bet here: if the cluster is not a coincidence and if it's not due to the elevators, there will be blood on the hands of UCSD administrators.

All I know is that UCSD better not have been taking out "dead peasant" insurance policies.

Whether this cluster is indeed a coincidence or the sign of a real problem, this is a terrifying story that hits too close to home. I don't know what I would do were I a grad student at UCSD; I would hate to think that my advisor and beloved departmental staff were risking their lives by working in the building. Luckily, if UCSD is anything like UCSC, the grad students are probably unaffected--considering that none of us have offices in the Lit building (or anywhere else, for that matter).

Any UCSD students out there who can offer a "local report" on this story? Holla atcha colleague.

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Anonymous said...

So what are they protesting? The study? The results? The fact that they are investigating? The cancer itself?

The BeeMaster

Word: verandis: Plural of veranda. Often confused with veranda, which just sounds like unintelligent verandis.

FOSCO said...

Oh, right. I guess I should have read the _beginning_ of my post after I wrote the end--I drifted, I think. :)

FOSCO said...

There. Fixed that problem.