MSU Denver tests building for carcinogens after 4 faculty members are diagnosed with cancer

DENVER — Officials at Metropolitan State University of Denver are working to determine if a building on the Auraria campus is causing cancer. 

Four faculty members from the same academic department — working at the West Classroom Building — have been diagnosed with various forms of cancer.

The university held a town hall meeting Thursday morning in an attempt to calm nerves.

One of the four faculty members was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2014 and died in 2016, according to MSU Denver. Within the last six months, three additional educators have been diagnosed with cancer. Two have breast cancer and one has liver cancer.

At issue is a specific area of the West Classroom Building where the cancer patients work. Industrial hygienists are attempting to determine if the four cancer diagnoses are a coincidence or due to an environmental health danger in the building.

MSU students told FOX31 they had not officially been notified of the scare. On July 17, a faculty member alerted the university of her breast diagnosis and sounded the alarm, according to Larry Sampler, MSU’s chief operating officer.

“One of the first things that we did on Thursday and Friday was we contacted independent firms to come in and test the building,” Sampler said. “We wanted to prove or disprove: was there any link between the building and the cancers?"

MSU’s contracted tests of the air and surfaces will follow OSHA and EPA standards, Sampler says.

“This long laundry list [of chemicals] ... they’ll report back on all of them,” Sampler said. “And then they and an epidemiologist will help us decide if there’s any linkage between what they found and what might have caused or contributed to these cancers.”

At the town hall meeting, officials told the campus community that there is currently no data that suggests the building is unsafe. They say that is why an evacuation has not yet been ordered.

“I know that the university is doing everything it can to investigate the potential cause, and if there is [a cause], to mitigate any risk to any faculty or staff or students,” said MSU educator Andy Traver.

This is not the first time there’s been cause for concern on campus. Workers found asbestos during a remodel of the West Classroom Building in 2010. The university insists any disruption of asbestos is followed up with mitigation. The university also says it has tested for lead in the water and asbestos in the building of concern — and those test results came back clean.

As news of the scare spreads on campus, people are considering their comfort level of being in the building.

Summer classes are ongoing. A majority of educators return from summer break on Aug. 12 and students return on Aug. 19. Test results are expected to be returned by Aug. 8.

If the results are unsatisfactory, MSU says a contingency plan is in place to close the building and hold classes elsewhere on campus.

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