Dec. 22 update on status of One Broadway: Health assessments


Please note: To access communications after Jan. 11, 2007, as well as full archives, please refer to the MITIMCO web site for One Broadway.

The memo below, regarding health assessments at One Broadway, was sent Dec. 22 from Steven C. Marsh, managing director of real estate for the MIT Investment Management Company (MITIMCO), and Michael K. Owu, director of real estate for MITIMCO, to tenants and employees in One Broadway.

As part of our on-going efforts to address health concerns following the fire at One Broadway, we would like to share the following information with you.

  •  An update from Environmental Health and Engineering (EH&E) summarizing preliminary findings of the EH&E testing that has been done to date; and
  •  A memo from Dr. David Diamond, Chief of Medicine at MIT Medical, addressing questions related to smoke inhalation.

As you will see from the EH&E update, the preliminary results and analysis are encouraging.

The letter from Dr. David Diamond was originally written as a communication to MIT employees shortly after the fire. Dr. Diamond has reviewed the additional reports and test results prepared by EH&E and has approved that this updated communication be sent out to MIT employees and to the broader community of tenants and employees at One Broadway.

Dr. David Diamond was part of the emergency response staff which evaluated and treated approximately 35 employees of One Broadway the day of the fire, and has been following the status of others who were treated and released from the MIT Medical facility. He has reviewed the preliminary findings and offers his analysis of the health risks. We think you will find his observations encouraging as well.

We are continuing to work with EH&E and other outside experts to analyze results from the ongoing testing and will provide you with further analysis as it becomes available. In addition, we are reaching out to occupational health and other medical specialists in an effort to organize a series of forums in which you will have the opportunity to participate in a comprehensive discussion addressing fire-related health issues, and ask questions directly of medical experts. We anticipate these forums will begin sometime after the holidays.

On another matter, tenant access to the building will resume on Tuesday, December 26 during the regular scheduled times. There will be no access over the holiday weekend.

We want to take this opportunity to thank you for your patience, and once again express our commitment to providing you with information about the status of One Broadway. We wish you all a safe and peaceful holiday.

EH&E Update and Preliminary Summary of One Broadway Test Results

Listed below is a summary of the preliminary findings of the testing that has been performed to date by Environmental Health & Engineering, Inc. (EH&E) in response to the fire on December 8, 2006, at One Broadway. EH&E is continuing to evaluate the testing results, and we are completing a thorough assessment of the potential exposures and risks.

1. Testing of the mineral oil from the fire-damaged transformer confirmed that only trace levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were present (less than 30 parts per million [ppm]). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses 50 ppm as the threshold for identifying material as "PCB-containing."

2. NSTAR has reported that, in 1986, it arranged to have PCB-containing oil from the damaged transformer removed and replaced with mineral oil.

3. Nearly all of EH&E's wipe samples are below the most stringent health guideline of 10 micrograms per 100 square centimeters established by the EPA for PCBs. Thus far, only one sample taken from the first floor stairwell ventilation grill tested above this criterion (35 micrograms per 100 square centimeters). Comparatively, however, the analysis of a sample collected from an adjacent wall to this grill did not detect PCBs (less than .1 micrograms per 100 square centimeters).

4. The highest level of PCBs detected thus far from bulk soot samples has been 100 ppm. This sample was taken from soot deposited in the transformer vault; this area was closest to the source of the fire and was expected to contain the highest concentration. No other EH&E sample results from fire-impacted materials received to date have indicated concentrations of PCBs at or above the EPA's 50 ppm threshold for "PCB-containing" material.

5. Levels of lead from surfaces in the stairwell walls and tenant-occupied spaces are below 40 micrograms per square foot, the EPA's health standard to protect children against exposures from lead-based paint.

6. Semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) identified in soot from the vault were at or below the most stringent standards for these compounds in soil set by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

Using the data collected, EH&E is conducting a rigorous analysis of potential risks associated with exposure to smoke that occupants may have experienced during the evacuation from the building. This process includes calculating potential exposures to estimate health risks and to compare these levels to public health and occupational health standards. Thus far, the preliminary results of our analysis, considering the estimated smoke concentrations and the duration of potential exposure, indicate that the short and long-term health risks after the fire are low.

Once the detailed analysis has been completed, our results will be reported and put into context by medical experts.

Memo from Dr. David Diamond, MD

I am writing to you in my capacity as the MIT Medical doctor specializing in environmental medicine.

I was involved in responding to the fire at One Broadway on December 8, 2006 and was part of the emergency response staff evaluating approximately 35 evacuated occupants who were triaged to the Marriott Ballroom. In addition, I am aware of the status of about 25 persons who were seen, treated, and released from the MIT Medical facility.

Extensive environmental testing of the area near the transformer and throughout the building is being done by a well know and experienced environmental consulting firm, Environmental Health and Engineering. I have just reviewed the data collected up to now and their preliminary summary memo released today.

Based on all current information, occupants who inhaled the smoke during their evacuation were exposed principally to combustion products of electrical insulation and dielectric oil. The primary health effect of an acute exposure smoke from fire is irritation and inflammation which can lead to cough and wheeze. These effects in most cases should resolve over a period of days to weeks. Although the smoke was intense and trace amounts of chemicals and metals were detected in the analyzed soot, the duration of inhalation would not lead to a significant increase in an average person's lifetime exposure to these potentially unhealthy airborne chemicals and particles.

I have consulted with other environmental health and pulmonary experts regarding this incident and as of now there are no specific recommendations for medical follow up or treatment for anyone who is not having symptoms. However, we do recommend that anyone with on-going symptoms or concerns regarding health effects from this incident contact their own primary care clinician for evaluation.

If and when more information regarding health effects becomes available, I will update this memo and re-issue it promptly.


Topics: Cambridge, Boston and region, Campus services, One Broadway

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