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January 20, 2000

Extra health, safety precautions taken during stadium demolition

Health and safety officials at UPMC Health System and Pitt are taking extra precautions during the demolition of Pitt Stadium and subsequent construction of the new convocation center on the stadium's site.

UPMC established a task force of staff from the offices of Environmental Health and Safety, Environmental Support Services, Construction Management, Infection Control, Security, Housekeeping and Risk Management to monitor potentially infectious airborne dust and soil particles in UPMC buildings and hospitals.

"The main concern is for immuno-compromised people, such as organ transplant or bone-marrow transplant patients who are affected by contaminants," said Sharon Krystofiak, an infection control practitioner at UPMC and a member of the task force. "We've upgraded or checked all our air monitors and ventilation controls throughout the Oakland UPMC buildings and including Scaife Hall, where many people go from to the hospitals."

Last September the health system hired Andrew Streifel, hospital environmentalist at the University of Minnesota, to act as a consultant and help point out trouble spots, Krystofiak said. "In Scaife, for example, we closed off the doors to the 4th floor corridor, which are near the elevators and escalators and get mostly traffic of people coming from outside," she said. The 100-foot detour is a small inconvenience once people know where to go, she added.

The health system also has re-routed shuttle stops formerly across from the stadium to the Scaife Hall entrance at Terrace and Lothrop Streets to minimize dust getting into the building.

Extra signs have been posted around the buildings to urge people to keep outside doors and windows closed. "But much of what we've done is word-of-mouth to staff, in addition to keeping them updated through our weekly newsletter," Krystofiak said.

Lawrence Keller, director of Pitt's Department of Environmental Health and Safety, said efforts of his staff during the construction project are concentrated in Scaife, Salk and the Graduate School of Public Health, where some labs need to be kept contaminant-free.

"We reviewed all the buildings' systems. We monitor those continually, checking their ventilation systems and setting the filter capacities to their highest levels."

Keller said the situation is analogous to hay fever sufferers during high-pollen count times: "Closing doors and using air conditioners helps." He said contractors also take precautions by watering down dusty areas on demolition sites. "And sometimes the prevailing winds can help alleviate the dust concentrations."

Both Krystofiak and Keller agree the greater danger is during demolition, not construction. "Demolition is more problematic because of the long-term settled dust that accumulates in a structure over a long period of time," Keller said.

Demolition of the 74-year-old Pitt Stadium will continue through April, according to Facilities Management officials. The new Petersen Events Center is targeted to open in late fall 2001.

"There's always a cloud of particles in an area of construction. That's unavoidable. But the bottom line is that the general University population is not at risk," Keller said.

–Peter Hart

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