Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Varmus

This blog presents ethics and safety concerns at a high profile cancer center (MSKCC), where clinical trial candidates are developed. It is not run by MSKCC. It does not imply that one should not seek appropriate medical attention for an ailment by a reputable physician (at MSKCC or elsewhere).

MSKCCheats

Sloan is pursuing a systemic approach to reducing expenses and increasing revenues […] One example of this is discouraging terminally ill patients from seeking initial treatment or second opinions from the cancer center […] the admission of such patients is counterproductive […] to Sloan Kettering.” [paraphrasing salient features, MSKCC, CFO/Chief Financial Officer]

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC)’s policies relative to the following Conflict of Interest [COI]/ethics and Safety issues are of concern:
On occasion [e.g. when an article appears in the lay press] an intuitive (and persistent cancer) patient (or their proxy) accesses the Bioorganic Chemistry Laboratory via phone, seeking information about (and participation in) epothilone clinical trials conducted at MSKCC. In the past the non-clinician Ph.D. Administrative Manager [AM] (Dr. Sarah Danishefsky, the spouse of the Principal Investigator [PI, also a Professor of Chemistry at Columbia University]) of the high profile Bioorganic Chemistry Laboratory has instructed a junior, but not direct report to keep secret (withhold/embargo) known information relative to the availability of clinical trials conducted at MSKCC on a (Bristol Myers Squibb [and/or possibly Novartis’] developed epothilone derivative) drug candidate(s) that compete(s) directly with an epothilone analogue candidate that emanates from the Bioorganic Chemistry Laboratory, in variance with the above-mentioned queries and the fact that the AM had actually apprised her coworker that a clinical trial on the competitor’s drug candidate(s) was or were commencing (or had commenced) at Sloan and then instructed him to embargo this information. The AM subsequently attempted to cloak her motives by stating “ours are better than theirs,” invoking early, at that point unverified comparative in-vitro and/or in-vivo data points (supplied by a colleague whose scientific methodology had been questioned on more than one occasion by disparate, mutually exclusive researchers, (grant and other) administrators and/or industrial courtship candidates who did not know of each other’s concerns about the Sloan colleague researcher). At that point in time the Bioorganic’s candidate was ~ an estimated 1 year from the start of a proposed and hoped for clinical trial (which has apparently since begun [off site, and possibly at Sloan]). The lab had smarted, being bested (and dropping out of a front-runner position) in a high profile natural product synthesis race when a staff process chemist charged with supplying an already solved piece of the puzzle for subsequent, forging ahead iterations of the synthesis attempt reportedly used the wrong racemer of a reagent that was not checked appropriately by the A team prior to utilization, dooming an otherwise successful virtually complete synthesis to failure. Germane is a financially significant, development / rights purchase of a Bioorganic Laboratory epothilone drug candidate by Roche via Kosan (its licensee) [since abandoned by Roche, Kosan recently being purchased by BMS]. Although one can understand the premise of not promoting a competitor’s product, that business tenet would clearly not be applicable in this situation at Sloan. Though warned on more than one occasion to not report these problems by Sloan employees the Sloan employee felt uncomfortable misleading seemingly desperate cancer patients or their proxies and always referred these queries to either the MSKCC Physician Referral help line or to administrators or nurse clinicians affiliated with the clinician under whose aegis the BMS [and/or possibly the Novartis] trial (and possibly, now, the Bioorganic candidate’s study) is apparently conducted at Sloan) for proper vetting. That the Administrative Manager would place her own potential financial successes and results above the content of the character of the Sloan-Kettering Institute may not be a surprise. That she instructed (and expected) her coworker to abet this initiative was out of line and evidence of a lack of respect for the Institute and for her coworker, who did not think that the AM would go so low as to expect him to do her dirty work or for her to drop her guard to the point that she’d expose herself, the lab and Sloan to this type of ethics liability, considering that the Bioorganic compound(s) might very well prove to be the best of the epothilone class, after proper clinical trial vetting. Such a tack, if followed would be in variance with that espoused [by Varmus, Nurse, Mendelsohn and/or Abeloff] on the “Titans of Cancer” television special. The Sloan employee’s parent’s first child died of complications from childhood leukemia at Memorial Hospital two years before he was born. A child with this affliction today stands a good chance of survival due in no small part to the therapeutic advances fomented at Sloan and other like-minded Institutions, yet if the above-mentioned bio-ethically challenged tack were allowed to continue unchecked, it would tarnish the otherwise important science and medicine that emanates from MSKCC and instead of properly steeling hope, Sloan Kettering would merely be stealing hope, one clinical trial enrollee at a time. There is a difference between proudly standing behind one’s brilliant work product and bending the rules when convenient for oneself, especially when lives may be in the balance and when the professionals bending rules are people and/or Institutions who clearly know better and who claim to be standard bearers of higher ethical practice. A US Army General (possibly a War-College dean/affiliate) has stated (I paraphrase) that Harvard MBA candidates learn to overcome ethics while pursuing a profit. Such an MO may be in variance with the COI and ethics policies of MSKCC. The above mentioned instance of craven self-servitude is coupled with other episodes of intermittently palpable disingenuousness at Sloan (e.g. that the AM is considered a “full time” employee, yet is often on campus at most perhaps 50% time and has had the temerity to complain during work hours via phone from off-campus that she could not check her stocks, peculiar acts of self promotion (e.g.: arranging for one’s own nomination for scientific accolades, the PI penning a nomination for himself for the Nobel in his own longhand on the nomination form] and acting surprised and naive when awarded them, including a prize from the very company [BMS] on the short end of the AM’s conflicted interest [though the PI once stated that if [the President of the MD Anderson Center] won that award, that he didn’t want it]), a protégé professor who fellowshipped in the Bioorganic Lab involved in his own hubris inspired imbroglio (retraction of multiple tenure facilitating papers and allegations of having an affair with a student and of her “irreproducible” data); The Principal Investigator (PI) was admonished by the President of the Institute for being “disingenuous” when the PI submitted a paper to a high profile journal and stated in the paper submission cover letter that he’d “shown the paper to” the [President of the Institute], when in fact he’d copied him on the submission after the paper was submitted. The President was upset that one might infer that he approved of the paper; A “promising”, substance abusing graduate student at the PI’s Columbia Lab threw a heavy object off of the roof of the Chemistry Building on to a patio strewn with departmental revelers during a welcoming party for new graduate students; It has been reported (e.g. by an erstwhile colleague, Ms. Sara Fr*) that the MSKCC Director of Communications/Spokesperson, Christine Hickey has a history of (familial) mind altering drug/substance [cocaine] abuse; Dr. Sarah Danishefsky quarreled over seating the daughter of a recently widowed benefactor of a named MSKCC lecture at a post lecture dinner because Dr. Danishefsky had already devised a seating plan socially acceptable to herself; The Bioorganic PI had reportedly been barred from consulting at a branch of a NJ based major pharmaceutical company, concerns about the efficacy of laboratory notebook record keeping and the egregious physical plant shortcomings at the Institute (a confluence of bizarre design, building/construction and facilities management flaws in the RRL laboratory building that intermittently, inappropriately render the RRL a toxic firetrap [whose cover-up (and the ruse invoked while duping a rightfully concerned local community, the community board and the city relative to systemic infrastructure problems in the RRL and safety issues at MSKCC that affect employee and community safety) allowing for the hurdling of impediments to the squirming construction of the new/replacement Sloan research tower and the granting of a zoning variance has included the conjuring and synchronizing of cover stories (as well as threats against employees who appropriately report environmental health and safety (EH&S) problems at Sloan) by MSKCC (facilities management and other Sloan administrators). [Sloan’s Facilities team is currently headed by VP, Ed Mahoney and is represented by attorney Shelly Friedman while attempting to assuage a rightly concerned local community relative to safety issues] Sloan had to previously abandon a building due to facilities/infrastructure problems that allowed for its employees to be exposed to poisonous carbon monoxide]; The Institute was cited by OSHA for “serious” Environmental Health and Safety violations,
These and other infrastructure problems affect reaction conditions and therefore stand to impeach the credibility of research conducted at Sloan (e.g.: cross contamination between supposedly mutually exclusive fume hoods reported by circumspect researchers, ductwork whose controls were unfathomably, yet knowingly, not installed properly by MSK, water leaking through live electrical light fixtures). It has also been reported that the PI of the Bioorganic Laboratory has attempted to leverage (to the point of irritating) the clinician overseeing clinical trials at Sloan to continue and/or increase enrollment in a trial of the above-mentioned bioorganic drug candidate in variance with the clinician’s concerns about the bioorganic drug candidate’s efficacy and patient safety. This is significant because very large milestone dependent royalty payments are contingent upon continued enrollment of patients and/or completion of a clinical trial’s “Phase.” A high profile researcher/clinician (a deputy physician in chief) at Sloan was arrested following an SEC investigation for insider (Imclone) stock trading; The former physician in chief committed suicide; Off-scale windfall profits have been available to biotech company insiders at Sloan, perhaps their fortunate tipees (e.g.: Ariad [stock ticker: Aria] whose stock price jumped one hundred (100) times or ten thousand (10,000) percent during a relatively short ~ five (5) month period (10/99-3/00) following assuaging of a “buy” impediment [the former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, pardoned by President Clinton, has sat on the Board of Ariad]) and perhaps fortunate future tipees, were this type of lightning to strike again. Although the honest application of the forces of commerce (monetary reward for brilliant and properly vetted hard work) are appropriate, inappropriate leverage by a powerful non-clinician possibly resulting in someone being a pawn so that a non-clinician or the Institute could receive a royalty payment that lay in the balance, or the embargoing of known information about the availability of competitors’ clinical trial drug candidates conducted at MSKCC are likely not. Congress has investigated the National Institutes of Health (NIH) relative to ethics/conflict of interest concerns (e.g.: the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI’s) erstwhile Director). So who’s minding the store and who can a desperate cancer sufferer trust if the guardians are equally or more concerned with their own stock portfolios than patient safety and drug efficacy? The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center has stated: “Sloan is pursuing a systemic approach to reducing expenses and increasing revenues […] One example of this is discouraging terminally ill patients from seeking initial treatment or second opinions from the cancer center […] the admission of such patients is counterproductive […] to Sloan Kettering.” Some of these issues have been broached in the New York Times, The New York Observer, other press publications and even Michael Moore’s movie “Sicko.” For the protection of the Institute, in these times of heightened corporate, medical and pharmaceutical industry scrutiny and accountability, given that the research conducted in the Bioorganic Chemistry Laboratory is funded in part by government (e.g.: NIH RO1 [discovery] and RAID [scale-up for industrial development (the NIH researcher/administrator who vetted the Sloan epothilone candidate prior to award of an NIH RAID grant has interestingly since sat on the Board of Kosan)]) grants and philanthropic (e.g.: MSKCC Major Donor) sources and that MSKCC is reviewed (and accredited) by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospital Organizations (JCAHO), please clarify Sloan’s policy relative to the ethics/conflict of interest awkwardness discussed in this note. One ought to be wary whether a greeting offered by Sloan to a cancer sufferer (especially one who is recruited to join a [lab to clinic] “translational” experimental study) is a compassionate smile or a smirk and whether Sloan is a leader in the fight against cancer or merely a cog in the “cancer racket.” There is a connection between the EH&S and ethics problems as potential and/or realized profit has affected the non-addressment of systemic environmental health and safety issues at Sloan. Has Sloan conjured and synchronized their cover stories relative to these issues as MSKCC has done in the past relative to other white-washes for which Sloan “conducted its own investigation” (eg: EH&S, “drug dealing” in its basement [the General Stores (GS) takes up a large portion of the MSKCC basement and one must be concerned as to if and how extensively the GS were compromised [and if government subsidized products or patient safety were compromised])? Is MSKCC following the Hippocratic or Hypocritic Oath? The PI of the lab discussed in this note has in the past been ‘predicted’ to win the Nobel Prize,
People and Institutes capable of performing this level of science clearly know better than to act this way, especially when it is clearly not necessary. One is reminded of the “don’t you care,” and “Ending” scenes from Al Pacino’s And Justice For All. MSKCC, we hoped that you would be our hero. Minimally, you’re SUPPOSED to care. MSKCC’s slogan is “the best cancer care anywhere”; apparently per the CFO, not if you are not a potential contributor to MSKCC’s revenue stream, or have a serious or advanced cancer and given the interesting self serving leverage that non clinicians attempt to invoke only if consistent with their stock portfolio’s health. Giants such as Drs. Fair and Petrek who gave their hearts and souls to their patients and to MSKCC might spin in their graves were they to know that titular (e.g. the C.F.O.) and de facto (the lab of a powerful non clinician) leaders at Sloan are capable of acting in the manner presented in this missive. MSKCC: Shame on you! How dare you!
Below is an elaboration on safety concerns in a research building at MSKCC where clinical trial drug candidates are developed:
Laboratory for Bioorganic Chemistry
Sloan Kettering Institute for Cancer Research
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
To: NIOSH, NY OSHA (Compliance Control Officer), NYFD Deputy Chief Inspector (Lab Unit),
EPA (CEPP)
From: C-14 (Chemistry Laboratory) Certificate of Fitness Holder, Sloan-Kettering Institute
To whom it may concern,
I am a C-14 (Chemistry Laboratory) Certificate of Fitness Holder at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center’s, Sloan-Kettering Institute-Rockefeller Research Laboratory (RRL) Building (430 E. 67th Street). In light of a recently announced fine to Sloan-Kettering by the EPA (apparently relative to mislabeled medical waste) and alleged ‘threats’ to ‘individuals or civic leader(s)’ (local ‘Our Town’ Newspaper, relative to Sloan’s contentious laboratory building initiative), I feel it appropriate to call your attention to (and submit for the record a report of) intermittent, yet recurrent chronic, un-rectified systemic infrastructure shortcomings at the (RRL) Building that stand to affect (and are likely affecting) the environmental health and safety (EH&S) of myself, my co-workers and by extrapolation, the surrounding Community. I do this for my own protection and for the protection of my former, current and future colleagues and colleague-charges. Rectification of these safety issues may warrant your organization’s investigation (e.g.: re air quality analysis, fire safety, and architectural records relative to known ductwork [and other infrastructure] problems) and/or oversight as these conditions continue to re-manifest themselves, intermittently, to date. Prior to the composition (and submission) of this note, I have contacted the proposed recipients’ [office(s) and/or organization(s)] and have received counsel as to where to submit my query. The goal of this query is to facilitate a mechanism whereby chronic problems that I’ve witnessed, or that have been reported to me by circumspect colleagues, in RRL over a ten-year period are addressed in a satisfactory (as opposed to a superficial and/or stopgap) manner and solved.
I have worked at MSKCC for approximately ~12+ years and have not missed one day of work (that has not been made up in a timely manner). Since 1993 I have worked on RRL 13. I have either witnessed (or received reports from circumspect colleagues of) systemic shortcomings in the Facilities Management and the infrastructure of the RRL building that have allowed for Sloan’s employees (and by extrapolation, the surrounding Community) to be exposed to acutely dangerous as well as to chronically negligent environmental health and safety conditions. Below, I outline but a few examples and briefly summarize the intransigence, hostility of (and misstatement of facts by) MSKCC’s Facilities Management Administration, the Safety Department and their confederates when they are asked to investigate and / or address these environmental health and safety issues.
Symptoms of systemic problems are manifested in the form of and include, but are not limited to:
*Cross contamination and/or recirculation of supposedly evacuated substances via faulty ductwork (that was unfathonably, yet knowingly, never installed properly by MSKCC/Facilities Management [VP Ed Mahoney currently heads MSK/Facilities), drains, improperly sealed floors/ceilings/(and unused [covered (e.g.: by installed walls), yet not sealed] drains) and elevator shafts [(a) between rooms on RRL 13, (b) between RRL 13 and the animal facility on RRL 12, and (c) between RRL 13 and other RRL floors] occurs intermittently, yet is unabated and is consistent with exposure of workers to fungus, mold, animal secretion exudates and organic and volatile, toxic (and otherwise harmful) compounds, chemicals, solvents, biohazards, radioactive-substances, carcinogens and disease causing microorganisms and/or pathogens.
*The animal facility cross-contamination and/or ’seepage’ also occurs on other floors in RRL and is intermittently prevalent in the lavatories.
*Reports of cross contamination between supposedly mutually exclusive chemical fume hoods by extremely circumspect, high caliber Ph.D. researchers has in the past been dismissed by MSKCC Facilities Management Administrators as ‘impossible.’ Germane to this issue is that there is a ‘radiation room’ on the floor that apparently utilizes fume hoods. Seminal experiments on compounds that have become clinical trial candidates are conducted in these fume hoods.
*Water leaks intermittently from the ceiling, from ducts and/or (distilled?) water conduits in RRL 1326, the NMR Core Facility, a room with organic and volatile solvents and cascades over, through (and at times remains settled stagnantly in) live fluorescent light fixtures. This ‘phenomena’ also occurs at other locations on RRL13. Initial reports of this phenomena resulted in Sloan-Facilities workers stating that we’d have to ‘wait a few weeks’ to address the problem, which continues, intermittently, to date.
*Although I have not missed one day of work in ~12+ years at Sloan I have experienced bouts of severe, chronic bronchitis, whose incidence(s) correlate positively with the HVAC/safety problems discussed in this note. If one can smell the airborne exudates(s) from the animal facility/cages (e.g.: putrid wood-shaving beds, urine, feces, etc.) one is also smelling and being exposed to and absorbing any airborne biohazards, toxins, carcinogens, teratogens, pathogens [including airborne dander from experimental animals treated with experimental, often toxic substances] etc., concomitant and associated with the animal facility environment. [Having worked with (nude) mice as but one component of a post-baccalaureate research laboratory technician position with a lab focused on monoclonal antibodies at another Research Institute I am not completely naive relative to the environmental, health and safety concerns and limitations affiliated with a research animal facility].
*Other health related concerns/events that correlate positively with RRL infrastructure (HVAC?) shortcomings include the fact that an otherwise healthy postdoctoral had once collapsed on the floor, requiring plastic surgery to address his resultant injury. Another researcher on the floor had been diagnosed with pneumonia. Earlier, 4 coworkers missed as much as one week each, while suffering from severe respiratory infections. In addition, another Investigator suffers from ear, nose and throat complications that intermittently require medical attention. This researcher’s office has intermittent, yet unabated, air circulation problems. If not (minimally, partially) causative, the air circulation problems on the floor can only exacerbate this Investigator’s ENT problem.
*Growth-media (supposedly unused on RRL 13) and therefore microbes growing in it that may become airborne, whose source is unknown but may include biohazard hood systems elsewhere in the building (but apparently not on RRL 13), and whose conduit source may include drains, ducts and elevator shafts, is intermittently sensed (smelled) on RRL 13.
*The Sloan Building Services attendant assigned to RRL13, on more than one occasion, has apprised me of a film of unknown composition that regularly settle(s) atop the bookcases in RRL 1301, an administrative office with known ductwork problems.
*Chemicals (that smell like either pyridines (a known teratogen) and/or acid chlorides or chloroformates are intermittently smelled on RRL 13 (RRL 1301 [an administrative office] and RRL13’s North and East Corridors) even though these chemicals are supposedly used on RRL 13 solely in the fume hoods, are stored in freezers in the RRL Central Core Lab, and one cannot smell the chemicals in the aisles of the laboratories when they are sensed (smelled) in the administrative office and/or corridor.
*In the past, when I reported chemical smells similar to those mentioned above in the hallways and offices on the floor, the head of MSKCC Safety invoked the tea kettle-pot, mutual-accusation conundrum. The fact that chemicals are used in supposedly functioning fume hoods and stored in freezers in the RRL Core and Labs, does not account for why chemicals are smelled in administrative offices and halls where there is apt (on any given day) to be little, or no, circulation.
The HVAC problems have re-manifested in the form of ductwork that was intermittently down for extended periods of time in RRL 1301, as well as in the South East quadrant of RRL 13, where it once it caused clear overheating and apparent burning. The latter was reported to MSKCC Facilities Management and Lab Operations. The following day, it was reported to me by another COF (Certificate of Fitness) holder on RRL that the NYFD (fire department) responded to an alarm in RRL and that RRL 13 employees were warned over the intercom to “prepare to evacuate.”
At one point the Rockefeller Research Laboratory needed to be evacuated following a chemical spill on RRL 14 and perfusion of an irritant (that was initially described as ‘chlorine’ or ‘bromine’ by the circumspect, high caliber Ph.D. chemists on the floor who were wary of and alarmed by the irritant because ‘no one in the lab’ was ‘working with chlorine or bromine’ at the time [at that point in time there was also a concern on the floor relative to cross-contamination between supposedly mutually exclusive fume hoods, of which the ‘chlorine’ was possibly another example of cross-contamination]) on to the 13th floor. MSKCC, in a Memo distributed to all employees via email from the head of Safety (but possibly co-written, edited, approved, ghosted or issued via edict by an administrator, administrators or the Public Affairs office) neither of whom, unlike myself, was (or were) on site when this situation developed, dismissed the event. Sloan would have you believe that gas wafted through two closed doors in the emergency stairwell and through a third (a southern) laboratory door, jumped over open space in the south end of a lab (where it could not be smelled or otherwise sensed) and settled mid room in front of and below multiple, segregated and isolated hoods, ducts and drains. Sloan subsequently dismissed as ‘impossible’ the likelihood that the chlorine-like irritant perfused through the air ducts, drains and fume hoods even though Sloan admitted once again soon after the incident (via posted announcement that duct work controls would be replaced throughout the building) that the duct work in the building did not work properly and that they were well aware of the problem. [Previously, it had been reported to me on more than one occasion (e.g.: from a contractor who worked on the RRL 13 retrofit and an MSKCC Safety Officer) that the ductwork had unbelievably, but assuredly, knowingly not been installed properly by MSKCC. At that point in time although Sloan knew of this situation, MSKCC had not rectified the problem.] Following the evacuation a senior administrator from MSKCC Facilities (its Director) attempted to intimidate me (”warning” me that I “upset a lot of people”) when I challenged the veracity of the MSKCC inaccurate assuagement. [Accurate reportage at that point in time could have drawn unwanted attention to RRL’s HVAC problems and the then known fact that the ductwork was not installed (and/or functioning) properly]. Though others may experience post-intimidation amnesia, I feel that unit integrity also equates with unit safety.
Subsequently, a smoke condition (secondary to a car fire in the RRL basement-garage) developed and rapidly increased in intensity on RRL13. The fire and the resultant smoke condition resulted in the evacuation of RRL. At no point in time did smoke alarms sound on RRL13. In variance with past requests, fire alarms are still not located in laboratories on RRL 13, rooms where the majority of workers on RRL 13 carry out their assigned duties. The fire alarms that are located on the floor are (mostly) inaudible in the laboratory rooms. In deference to MSKCC Lab-Ops and Safety, after this event and in variance with past (previously discussed) safety incidents, Lab-Ops asked for a ‘no holds barred’ report of the incident from our (RRL13 Fire Wardens’) perspective and we have provided such a report to Sloan-Lab-Ops (that may be pooled, weighed and compared with other reports [from local perspectives] of the incident).
The combination of faulty ductwork, improperly sealed and porous floors (that render moot and impeaches the credibility of supposedly functioning HVAC/duct systems), ceilings, and drainage systems is a particularly pernicious cocktail considering silica, radioactive substances, cyanide, pyridines, nitrogen and many other toxins, poisons and carcinogens are used on RRL 13 and that innumerable pathogens, biohazards and other disease facilitating microbes are present in the animal facility below (and/or throughout the RRL building). The material safety data sheets for silica, nitrogen and pyridine reveal but three justifications for concern [e.g.: A few years ago a worker apparently died of asphyxiation due to nitrogen gas exposure (secondary to a liquid nitrogen bleed) in a nearby medical facility that housed an MRI magnet enclosed in a room with limited air circulation, not unlike the NMR magnet (which is cooled via liquid nitrogen in a manner similar to an MRI) in the RRL 13 Core Facility, that is on a floor with known ductwork and air circulation problems]. The MSK Facilities Management Department or those instructing them, operating in conjunction with them, or under its aegis has a history of doing (or overseeing) poor/negligent work, allowing for (and indifference to) exposure of Sloan’s employees to dangerous conditions, of not being on top of the infrastructure of the current RRL (research) building, of conjuring and synchronizing cover stories following safety incidents, of attempting to bully, threaten and/or attempt to intimidate employees so that they do not accurately report safety incidents or problems, of refusing to investigate (and denial when confronted with) these problems in an attempt to cover-up and avoid accurate reporting of environmental-health related problems and shortcomings that MSK-Facilities is responsible for causing) - thereby neglecting, jeopardizing and disregarding Employee (and Community) Safety [e.g.: a NYC Public School is located immediately adjacent to RRL and a private Pre-School has been located in the adjacent building, in the space formerly occupied by the MSKCC Library’s basement]. I have listed but a few examples. Your organization(s) may consider that aspects related to the interface between Sloan/RRL infrastructure and Worker’ and Community Health may warrant investigation, monitoring and/or rectification, if appropriate — especially considering that the Sloan-Facilities-Management Team is currently entrusted with oversight of the construction of an otherwise eminently warranted, imminently necessary and appropriate new research tower, on a nearby residential block (whose construction required a variance in NYC zoning laws following contentious debate within the rightfully concerned and apprehensive, adjacent Community).
Though one might expect Sloan to dismiss the allegations presented in this note as statistically insignificant, coincidental, untrue, or venial (e.g.: by dismissing systemic, chronic EH&S problems as merely an occasionally malfunctioning thermostat), the EH&S concerns are accurate. I know that I am not the only person who has posited reports relative to EH&S and/or air circulation problems on RRL 13 with MSKCC Facilities, Safety or Lab-Ops. I don’t think the Facilities Management team would have the temerity to act as cavalierly as they have relative to EH&S issues without tacit/implicit approval or explicit instructions from (past or present) senior administrators at Sloan [some of whom may have at one point in time been naive to, have been kept in the dark (possibly, so as to be able to seek indemnity or invoke plausible deniability as to culpability, or merely due to deception at the Facilities’ end of the operation) and/or inherited the EH&S problems from (a) prior administration(s)].
Although a catastrophic accident at RRL is feasible, I intuit what is more likely to occur are unnecessary health complications to Sloan-Employees concomitant with long-term chronic exposure to hazards that would not have occurred if the safety problems mentioned in this note were (or are) addressed in a timely manner by Sloan. During my tenure on RRL 13 I have witnessed a situation where MSKCC Facilities, while attempting to cover up these issues is dictating (rather than following sound) safety policy. In variance with the above, I do know that Sloan is capable of sporting a respectable veneer (and of dotting their ‘i’s’ and crossing their ‘t’s’) when inspected re health and safety issues by outside agencies (e.g.: EPA, NYFD).
Based partially on talk amongst employees, it would not surprise me if Sloan is dealing with these and/or other known systemic environmental, health and safety infrastructure shortcomings in RRL via clandestine, unannounced plans to treat the new research tower being constructed as a ‘replacement’ building (for RRL), rather than for its stated purposes of decompression and expansion (and replacement of other (much older) MSKCC laboratories, such as the Kettering Laboratory). If this hypothesis were true, Sloan could purge RRL of all of its researchers and move them into the new building thereby granting Sloan the opportunity to gut RRL, [and some have stated that RRL may be] convert(ed it) into coincidentally lucrative outpatient facilities, while at the same time coincidentally destroying evidence of unnecessary chronic exposure of its unknowing, innocent and naive employees (and by extrapolation the rightfully suspicious and wary, yet naive surrounding Community) to health hazards.
A noxious ‘forever loop’ wherein RRL exhaust is somehow re-circulated through an intake vent (possibly as the result of poor design and/or oversight during the RRL 13 retrofit that neglected to account for pre-existing exhaust and / or intake vents) may be a contributing factor to these problems. Following the ‘chlorine’ incident and building evacuation in 2000, it was reported to me by circumspect colleagues that the MSKCC Facilities Management team considered such a ‘forever loop’ (of [at that point in time] unknown origin) to be a possible contributing factor in that incident, prior to MSKCC-Facilities’ dismissal of a ‘forever-loop’ factor in that incident, and otherwise attempting to sweep what actually did occur under the rug.
I have also been apprised that RRL 13 is not the only floor where workers have experienced severe bronchial problems. It would not surprise me if Sloan (if and when bullying and / or intimidation prove unsuccessful) attempts to purchase the silence of those who experience breathing problems that are positively correlated with RRL HVAC problems, assuaging an individual, but not addressing the problem’s cause or solving the underlying problem(s). As stated elsewhere in this note, I know first hand that Sloan attempts to win through intimidation silence relative to accurate reporting of safety related problems. If a postdoctoral researcher, whose next step (be it academic appointment, big pharma, biotech, law $chool [and subsequent intellectual property work]) is contingent upon a reference letter from their current mentor were to raise these concerns, their career would be jeopardized.
Stagnant water (such as that which accumulates secondary to the ceiling-leak-’phenomena’), combined with ductwork problems and an endless source of exposure to microorganisms may constitute a legionella or pneumonia (causative agent) hospitable environment and it may be appropriate to consider the installation of ultraviolet germicidal lights in the ductwork systems, similar to those apparently studied in The Lancet, (2003, 362 (9898), 1785), if such systems are not already in use and are not in variance with intermittent contact with volatile chemicals that may coincidentally ’seep’ into the ductwork.
My parents’ first child died of complications from childhood leukemia at Memorial Hospital two years before I was born. A child with this affliction today stands a good chance of survival due in no small part to the therapeutic advances fomented at Sloan and other like-minded Institutions. Sloan’s mission is nonpareil and I realize the need to be circumspect, especially in these post-9/11 ‘trying times’ when the scope of Sloan’s high caliber mission is magnified (and your organizations rightfully need to be focused on external safely threats) — all the more reason that the health and safety of Sloan’s (mostly) selfless employees (and the surrounding Community) not be held hostage by Sloan’s Facilities Management team. No one, myself included, wants any lab downtime. However, Sloan should not be absolved from addressing EH&S matters such as those discussed in this note (which although intermittent are unabated) in a timely manner.
Although I am a ‘Certificate-of-Fitness-Holder’, the Administrative Manager (AM) on RRL 13 has in the past counseled me to not report safety issues (to let another ‘professional’ address Safety matters). Although she is a full-time employee, the AM is regularly on the Sloan campus only ~ 50% time and focuses on patent accruals (and other curious, [oft personal] finance-related matters) and is therefore exposed to any health hazards secondary to any RRL infrastructure and safety shortcomings but a fraction of the time of true full-time employees who are on the SKI campus 100% time (or more). The AM’s ([oft personal] financially guided) focus may constitute a conflict of interest with (and be in variance with) any necessary and / or appropriate rectification of safety problems that may (unfortunately, but possibly, necessarily, temporarily, or partially) interrupt the laboratory’s workflow.
I hope these thoughts are of interest to you and germane to your organization’s purview. I may be reached via the numbers listed below should your organization(s) seek clarification or wish me to elaborate further on these matters. If requested, I can point out exactly where the incidents and / or conditions reported and discussed in this note have (and continue intermittently to) occur(ed). As mentioned above, I feel it appropriate to posit these safety concerns in light of my responsibility to (and also so as to protect myself as well as) past, present and future colleagues and charges, especially considering [for what it’s worth] the collective symbolic and physical investment in this Institution by my family [its blood (my brother’s), sweat (mine) and tears (my parents’)]. In the limit, your organization(s) will have on file an official lodging of these concerns relative to infrastructure shortcomings relative to environmental, health and safety issues at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center/SKI in RRL so that when they recur and resurface Sloan will not be able to duck and/or deny their existence or plead naiveté.
Should you investigate these EH&S issues I do request that my name not be provided to Sloan (that I retain anonymity), so as to protect myself (in light of past attempts by Sloan to threaten / intimidate workers) and thank you, in advance, for considering investigation of these concerns.
In sum, I am not saying that an imminently catastrophic situation exists at Sloan-RRL [although it would not surprise me if one were to occur] or that on any given day that all (or any) of the above-mentioned environmental health and safety related events and/or conditions occur. I am stating that in a building strewn with innumerable toxins, carcinogens, poisons, pathogens, disease facilitating microbes, radioactive substances and biohazards such as RRL (whose windows cannot be opened) that proper ventilation has not been provided, that systemically (and quite often) safety features have not worked properly and / or are rendered moot by other (correctable, yet uncorrected) means of cross contamination, seepage and/or possible re-circulation of chemicals (possibly or supposedly) previously evacuated or exhausted and that notwithstanding requests to rectify these problems, that they continue (albeit intermittently) un-checked to date. Stopgap or patchwork fixes have just not solved the problem(s) which are likely systemic in nature rather than curious anomalies that just happen to appear. The cumulative result is that the RRL building is intermittently and unnecessarily rendered a toxic firetrap and has been and continues to be an unnecessary source of chronic exposure of Sloan’s employees to dangerous substances. A seasonal ritual seems to have developed on RRL 13 wherein an MSKCC-Plant-Ops (Facilities) worker responds to verbal reports of dead air or temperature (heating/cooling) issues, is ’surprised’ to discover the extent of RRL ductwork (-to-nowhere?-) problems and returns to RRL 13 tittering and smirking (and then attempts to humor those reporting the problems) - yet the problems discussed continue albeit intermittently: Water leaks through live light fixtures, animal facility cross contamination [the animal facility has since apparently been moved off campus] chemical smell(s) in hallways and administrative offices that have known ductwork and circulation problems, chemical smell(s) in the hallway / cross-contamination phenomena. Real, serious and chronic systemic infrastructure shortcomings that stand to affect (and are likely affecting) the health and safety of my coworkers and of myself have existed and continue to exist. These may warrant, minimally, investigation (e.g.: re air quality analysis, analysis of MSKCC employee health records relative to breathing problems in RRL, fire safety, architectural record investigation [though given that I’ve witnessed Sloan-Facilities misstating the facts and attempting to strong-arm the suppression of accurate reportage by first responders to past safety incidents, it would not surprise me if the credibility of Sloan’s -architectural records is also impeached]) and possibly outside oversight and / or monitoring, especially given the predicted, severe flu seasons [e.g.: On RRL13, a floor that has known ductwork/air circulation problems, minimally 7 people on RRL13 have recently experienced maladies whose symptoms include severe upper respiratory and/or sinus infections and / or a high fever] and the trust the justifiably concerned surrounding Community places in Sloan via its Facility Management Team’s oversight of the construction of the new research tower.
As stated in the introductory paragraph of this query, I have spoken with the offices of (most of) the proposed recipients of this note prior to its composition and submission (and received counsel as to where to submit the query). If the concerns addressed in this note do not fall under the aegis of your office, but do fall under the aegis of your organization, I’m hopeful that you’ll forward these concerns to the appropriate desk/department. If these concerns do not fall under the aegis of your organization, I apologize in advance for forwarding this to your office. Since these matters continue, intermittently, to date, if you have counsel as to where to legitimately pursue these concerns elsewhere (in a non-inflammatory way, whose end-goal is the investigation and rectification of the Safety problems [i.e. To provide insight towards the correction of these concerns, rather than to incite]) other than to those organizations and/or individuals on the enclosed recipient list, I would also appreciate your input.
I would not submit this note relative to EH&S concerns at RRL/Sloan if these issues had been addressed and solved in a timely and satisfactory manner and not covered up by Sloan-Facilities, and if a high threshold and tolerance level on my part had not been eclipsed many times over by Sloan-Facilities’ shortcomings and attempts at intimidation during my 10+ years, while stationed on RRL 13. My intuition is that if these issues fall under the aegis of your organization(s) and if you investigate these concerns, that you will find extant, systemic safety problems and/or infractions and a trail of attempted deception relative to reporting of safety shortcomings in RRL in the past. I also intuit that those culpable will firstly deny the existence of any safety problems, and that if/and/when confronted with evidence of their existence those culpable will attempt to diminish its intensity, claim naiveté, plead indemnity and eventually claim that they were ‘only following’ instructions. Yet, while Sloan-Facilities was ducking and dodging (and tittering and smirking relative to) Safety shortcomings in RRL in the past, its employees (and its surrounding Community) have unnecessarily been exposed to hazards secondary to them. I have often felt that Sloan expects its workers to do them a favor (or to use a 1960’s term used on the television show ‘the Mod Squad’, to ’solid’ them) by accepting these EH&S problems as merely an occupational hazard, since Sloan through its inaction clearly considers the systemic EH&S issues as no-big-deal (or ‘no-biggie’), resulting in their non-rectification. But while the Sloan-Facilities Team might expect Sloan’s workers to continue ’soliding’ them for what they consider to be ‘no biggies’ the Facilities team continues to titter, smirk and otherwise sweep these problems under the rug. I have problems with that arrangement wherein Sloan’s employees are expected to continue ’soliding’ Sloan, while Sloan is unnecessarily gassing, wafting, neglecting, and otherwise (possibly) poisoning its employees (and by extrapolation, the surrounding Community) especially when my coworkers, my colleague-charges and myself are on the short end of that arrangement, while Sloan’s EH&S neglect and detritus is apt to wind up in my (and our) lungs.
Following a prompt from the MSKCC President to lobby NYC zoning/building officials (as MSKCC employees saw fit) relative to a contentious building initiative, I submitted a letter containing some of the concerns discussed in this note to some of the zoning/building commission members, and community board 8 Manhattan (and at that point in time requested that, that note not be circulated). However, to date, I have not submitted anything in writing to agencies that may have EH&S oversight. In addition, I have edited this note extensively, and have sent iterations via email to and from my personal email account. Accordingly, I would not be surprised if Sloan may have monitored my email account and is privy to the contents of this note and has accordingly updated the synchronization of their EH&S related cover stories.
The admittedly critical tone of this note is proportional to the cumulative indifference, sloppiness, arrogance and attempts to suppress by intimidation legitimate reports of Safety shortcomings at MSKCC in RRL (whose end-goal is the rectification of such problems), with which Sloan and (members and administrators of) its Facilities Management team have conducted themselves relative to EH&S issues in RRL in the past. Accordingly, I submit this note without reservation in the hope that Sloan (and its Facilities team) might account for and rectify these safety concerns and issues. We live in a post-9/11/01 New York, USA, not a pre-12/84 Bhopal, India. It is not inappropriate to expect that problems relative to Environmental Health and Safety (read: the toxic fire trap that RRL [specifically RRL 13] has unnecessarily been in the past and continues to unnecessarily intermittently be), be addressed properly and solved in a timely manner. Though one would not expect Sloan to self-flagellate, one shouldn’t expect Sloan to exercise a double standard as they have (expecting complete candor from those who work in an academic environment, while not being candid relative to EH&S matters themselves). Sloan (via its Facilities Management team and their confederates) has been less than honest and less than forthright relative to such EH&S issues in the past.
I thank you, in advance, for considering the matters discussed in this note.
Sincerely yours,
[C-14 (Chemistry Laboratory) Certificate of Fitness Holder,
SKI/RRL Fire-Warden (RRL-13)]
Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research