Concern at East Carolina University
- Five professors with offices in the same faculty building on the East Carolina University Campus have died of pancreatic cancer since 2011.
- A 2019 investigation of the building by the school found no evidence of any cancer-causing products, but some on staff think asbestos is to blame.
- The cancers most commonly associated with asbestos are those of the lungs, larynx, and ovaries. There are very few cases of asbestos causing pancreatic cancer.
That professor was the fifth to die of pancreatic cancer since 2011 at the school in Greenville, North Carolina.Read More
The administration grew concerned enough after the fourth death in 2019 to commission an investigation into that building, examining everything from the structure to the pipes in an attempt to determine if there was in fact some explanation for this bizarre series of events.
The conclusion? There was not.
“East Carolina University has received communications detailing the concerns of faculty members regarding the Brewster Building – A Wing,” the school said in a statement. “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).”
There seemed to be no objection to the school’s decision to select an in-house team for that investigation, but any goodwill that bought the university was quickly squashed however with this most recent death.
A renewed charge is now being lead by Karin Zipf, a history professor at the school who is demanding answers and more details about that 2019 study.
“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,” notes Zipf in an interview with WNCT 9.
She later notes: “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.”
In response, the administration is once again investigating. A consultant has been hired to conduct a building hazard assessment, review the 2019 study, and to speak with other faculty members about the issue.
Asbestos and Pancreatic Cancer
Asbestos is a collection of minerals that are resistant to heat and not conductive. These naturally occurring minerals are also able to be manipulated into soft, lightweight, and stiff individual fibers which can then be bundled together to insulate areas or offer a barrier from extreme heat and/or fire.
For those reasons, asbestos has long been a popular choice when constructing buildings, especially in the last 50 years of the previous century.
Those fibers, however, can be inhaled by individuals, and once they get in the lungs remain trapped there. Once trapped, there is a risk those fibers will cause cell mutations that ultimately result in cancer.
The cancers most commonly associated with asbestos are those of the lungs, larynx, and ovaries. There are very few cases of asbestos causing pancreatic cancer in individuals with a few exceptions.
A 1981 study found that individuals who installed and mined for asbestos developed pancreatic cancer and there have been some cases of individuals on the scene of the 9/11 terror attacks also developing pancreatic cancer when the North Tower fell and sent millions of tons of asbestos fibers into the air.
The East Carolina University building was built in 1970 before building codes were enforced as strictly as they are today, so there are a host of possible toxins these five professors could have been exposed to over the years. All five men were also long-time employees of the school.
It would be a unique case study if asbestos did cause all five men to develop pancreatic cancer as opposed to the far more common cancers associated with the minerals, especially since in the aforementioned case study and on 9/11 there was direct contact and handling of asbestos prior to diagnosis.
Asbestos, a naturally occurring silicate mineral, is a known carcinogen, or, a cancer-causing agent.
Dr. Joseph Friedberg, the head of the Division of Thoracic Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said in a previous interview with SurvivorNet how it can cause mesothelioma, which is not the type of cancer that the East Carolina University professors were diagnosed with.
“Mesothelioma is a rare cancer. It’s maybe 1% or 2% as common as lung cancer or breast cancer. So maybe a few thousand cases a year in the United States. It’s the cancer which is – the overwhelming majority of the time – caused by asbestos. The most common presenting symptom for mesothelioma is shortness of breath, and the reason that happens is this. Every day, a couple of cups of fluid comes out of the lungs. This is normal.”
Dr. Friedberg said what to look for when it comes to this type of cancer: “Everyday, a couple of cups of fluid comes out of the lungs, and then gets absorbed by the lining of the chest cavity, primarily along the diaphragm, but really throughout. Anything that throws that balance out of whack can cause that fluid to accumulate. Mesothelioma, or any cancer effect in the pleura, you basically have plugged up the holes where the fluid gets absorbed, and at that point, it’s like putting up a dam. In either case, your stream overflows, you end up with a lake.”
Dr. Friedberg explained just what causes this shortness of breath. He said, “When that fluid accumulates, the lungs get squashed, people get short of breath. Most often, they’ll get diagnosed as having pneumonia or something else because someone listens to them, they have decreased breath sounds, they get treated. So because it’s such a rare cancer, it is often misdiagnosed for several months. The normal survival is typically about one to maybe two years. So it’s one of the most deadly cancers.”