RMIT Tumor Scare

Location: Australia

Monday, May 15, 2006

Five years on - RMIT is in "risk management mode"...

Hi Folks,
The disastrous situation at RMIT - 7 staff members from Building 108 with brain tumors - has prompted me to enter the wonderful world of "blog".

I spent almost a decade working in the School of Business Information Technology on the 17th floor of Building 108, and since 2001 my colleagues and I have been very concerned that we were working in a "sick" environment. RMIT's response in 2001 was a week of frantic activity, I remember returning to my office after delivering a lecture to discover some guy standing on my desk scanning my office with an antenna and monitor. My polite request - "Why are you doing this" was met with a grunted "None of your business". Colleagues and myself contacted the NTEU (our union) via our OHS rep, but about a week later the Dean's office passed on the message that Building 108 has a "clean bill of health". At that stage we were concerned, but not scared. How that has all changed.

Now, I have to tell you I am both concerned and scared. I have an appointment with my doctor tomorrow, and I will be asking for a range of diagnostic tests. I have contacted RMIT requesting financial reimbursement for what will be expensive tests - a CAT Scan will leave me at least $Au200 out of pocket, a MRI considerably more. RMIT refuses to discuss this with me, only stating that such tests are my decision, and my cost. Obviously, I would be crazy and stupid not to spend the money have these tests done.

Understandably, RMIT is in both crisis and risk management mode. Naturally they wish to avoid admitting any legal liability, and hope that this issue will disappear. On the other hand I estimate that at least 100 current and former employees are very concerned about the well-being of their colleagues and themselves. One wonders if RMIT considers the duties of a "compassionate employer". Cynically, RMIT is probably more concerned about how to get the School of Business Information Technology to reoccupy the 17th floor of B108.

I have had a fairly long conversation with RMIT's "medical consultant" (I will not name him now). His bottom line is that there is no reason for concern because no two tumors from the 17th floor are exactly the same. I'm sorry, but this does not reassure me. If there is a tumor causing agent - be it radiation (of any sort), a gas, something in the water or some sort of nasty material or chemical - it could cause a whole range of tumors! Remember, we are talking about different people, different ages, different backgrounds, different genetic make-ups, different levels of health. Why would you expect all the tumors to be exactly the same type? Would you ever expect a cluster of tumors to be identical? I think not. Exposure to sun-light is a good example - it can cause a whole range of skin cancers, not just one type.

Furthermore, if there is some agent active enough to cause brain tumors, can we be sure that it (the agent) will not cause problems to other major organs - the liver, heart, lungs, stomach, etc? I have no idea what the agent might be - I just hope someone has the guts and determination to find out exactly what is happening.

Apart from anything else - talk to a statistician. At least 7 tumors since 1999 from a population of approximately 100 to 120 people. Is this statistically significant? I'm reliably told that the answer is YES.

My last thought in this initial ramble - RMIT was initially named the "Working Man's College" - maybe the appropriate name should now be "the Working Man's Curse".

Take care out there!