Five ECU professors who died of cancer worked at same campus building at center of probe

Education

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — East Carolina University has been investigating several cancer cases that could be linked to one of its buildings.

Faculty members want to know if the Brewster Building is contributing to cancer deaths. There have been five professors who have worked and taught in that building who have each died of pancreatic cancer. Those who work there now say they want answers for their own safety.

“We in Brewster are having to face yet a second health crisis. While everyone else and we are dealing with COVID, we’re also dealing with this pancreatic cancer issue,” said Karin Zipf.

Zipf is a history professor at East Carolina University. She’s also the president of ECU’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors. AAUP is calling on the university to look into recent cancer deaths.

“I first became acutely aware of it in 2019 after the fourth death who was also a close colleague of mine,” she said.

Five professors have all died from pancreatic cancer from 2011 to the most recent in July 2021. They all had offices in the A-wing of the brewster building.

The university conducted a study in 2019 and found nothing wrong with the building.

“The one thing that I’ve asked the university to do that was omitted from that study is to look at asbestos in the building, particularly in the water and in the air. That was not included in the study,” said Zipf.

Zipf said she fears cancer and other reported illness from faculty members in the building could be connected to asbestos.

“The administration has renovated these other wings. They never renovated this wing. They were always telling us that the asbestos in this wing is stable. We do know asbestos exists in this building. I would like to know to what extent,” Zipf said.

“They’ve been very responsive. I’m very grateful to ECU for paying attention to this issue,” Zipf said.

East Carolina University released a statement concerning the issue.

“East Carolina University has received communications detailing the concerns of faculty members regarding the Brewster Building – A Wing. Environmental Health & Safety staff members completed an assessment of Brewster—A Wing in the summer of 2019; all samples taken between June and August 2019 were within normal recommended standards (many at non-detectable levels). 

University EH&S staff are obtaining additional information about the building and will continue to work with NC DHHS as well as a team of local experts. The university is also hiring a consultant to complete a third-party building hazard assessment, to review the previous assessment, and to address some of the specific concerns from faculty. 

The university takes the concerns of faculty, staff and students with great care. We will continue to work with local and state experts and an external consultant in an attempt to provide answers to our campus community.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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