Raleigh Attorneys Call for Independent Testing of NC State University’s Poe Hall

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“In my 30 years of environmental law practice, the contamination of NC State University’s Poe Hall is one of the most serious cases I have seen in terms of the potential for harmful human health effects,” said Bryan Brice, founder of the boutique environmental law firm, the Law Offices of F. Bryan Brice, Jr. “The PCB contamination of Poe Hall is a public health concern for anybody who has been in that building for any length of time.”

“For over 50 years, students, teachers and staff have been in and out of that building. So, I think the number of people who have been exposed may be in the thousands right now,” said David Kirby, founding partner of Edwards Kirby.

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Poe Hall housed NC State University’s College of Education and the psychology department. Chancellor Randy Woodson announced the closure of the building on November 17, 2023, following the discovery of PCBs in the facility. PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) have been linked to cancer and are considered to be “probable human carcinogens,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

PCBs were widely used in building materials in the 1950s and 1960s until they were banned in the late 1970s. Prior to the ban, they were used in building materials such as caulking, paint, sealants for tiles, HVAC systems, and ballasts for fluorescent lights.

Getting Calls

David Kirby
David Kirby
Bryan Brice
Bryan Brice

Brice and Kirby teamed up when they started getting calls after the building was closed by the university. Brice focuses his practice on environmental law and has handled cases including lawsuits against Duke Energy for dumping coal ash in the Dan River in Rockingham County and contaminating groundwater at surrounding coal ash plants across the state. With his senior associate Catherine Cralle Jones, his firm was also instrumental in landowner efforts to help stop the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The firm represented numerous clients on the Ward Transformer Superfund PCB site that resulted in a $100 million cleanup.

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Kirby has extensive trial experience in catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases. Kirby and Brice have worked together in the past on mold contamination wrongful death and other environmental cases, and both are involved in the ongoing Camp Lejeune water contamination litigation.

“I think it’s very important for anyone who has spent time in that building to be informed that they may have been exposed to high levels of PCBs,” said Kirby.

“We have received many calls from tenured professors and leadership in the College of Education and the psychology department who have spent years in that building,” said Kirby. “A lot of those callers are more concerned about their colleagues, staff and students than themselves.”

Horror Stories

“There have been reports of various health problems including breast cancer, respiratory issues, skin conditions, skin cancer, brain injuries and fertility issues among people who have spent time in Poe Hall,” explained Brice. “We know that PCBs cross the placenta and may impact unborn babies. PCBs are also stored in fatty tissue, so breastfed children of mothers who worked in the building may also be impacted.

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“We have heard real horror stories from those who worked in that building regarding the air quality,” Brice added. “A lot of these folks calling in are cancer survivors. They’ve been through hell and came out on the other side. They want answers from NC State University.”

Limited Testing

Brice, in cooperation with the law firm of Henson & Fuerst, has reached an agreement with NCSU to access the building to inspect and conduct additional testing relating to a pending worker’s compensation claim.

“NCSU faculty, students and staff all have a right to know if they have been exposed to a toxic level of PCBs,” said Kirby, adding that for several months NCSU has stone-walled requests for an independent study of PCBs present in the building. “These individuals deserve clear answers from the university.”

“Our understanding of the environment in Poe Hall continues to evolve,” reads a statement on the university website regarding Poe Hall Updates, “Geosyntec Consultants will conduct air sampling with the HVAC systems turned on to understand potential impacts during the building’s typical operations.”

NC State has not provided a timeline for the air sample testing and release of those results.

“We’re in the investigative stage,” said Kirby. “Very limited testing has been undertaken. We’re trying to determine the original building materials used and what renovations have been made over the years to various building components such as windows, doors, ceilings, lighting, HVAC systems, electrical, and plumbing.”

“We are trying to piece together how the building was constructed in the early 1970s and what renovations and modifications were undertaken over the past 50 years,” Brice said.

“We need to go floor by floor and do extensive testing. We need to look at the as-built plans along with all the renovation plans,” explained Kirby. “For example, let’s say that the testing reveals that very high concentrations of PCBs were on the fourth and fifth floors of the building. Students who only had classes on the first floor can rest easier, but it does not mean they had no exposure or were not impacted.”

NCSU has not allowed Kirby and Brice to join in any testing with Geosyntec nor for their experts to conduct any further testing in Poe Hall until after NCSU has finished their testing and analyses, which raises serious concerns.

Who is Responsible?

“We’re building a team of leading scientists across the country to assist us in the investigation. If litigation ensues, they will serve as our expert witnesses,” said Kirby.

“When we get an accurate environmental analysis, we’ll look at the medical side and the connection between the levels of PCBs and other contaminates and the illnesses our clients have experienced. If there is a causal connection, then my position is these people are entitled to be fairly and fully compensated,” said Kirby. The estates of people who have died from PCB and related exposure in Poe Hall are also due compensation.

Defendants might include NCSU and Monsanto. “Monsanto is the company that produced all of the PCBs that were used in building materials back in the 70s, 60s, and 50s. Monsanto produced the PCBs that are in the building,” said Brice. “According to our experts, it is important to test as soon as any HVAC or other systems are turned back on,” added Brice.

Several other law firms are also working on the case. “We have advised other firms in town that we will be happy to collaborate with them because we have a common goal,” said Kirby. “If hundreds, and possibly over a thousand students, faulty and staff, had their health damaged by toxic PCB exposure, we’ll need a large task force of lawyers to make certain an environmental catastrophe is remedied.”

“Our goal is to help ensure members of the NCSU community who were exposed to PCBs have access to the future healthcare they may need. They also need to have some financial security if something happens, and they can’t work so that their children are protected.”

Bob Friedman

Robert "Bob" Friedman is the publisher of Attorney at Law Magazine North Carolina Triangle. He contributes articles and interviews to each issue.

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