Brain tumour spate shuts uni school

By Adam Morton and David Rood
May 12, 2006 - 11:08AM
Page 1 of 2 | Single page

A spate of brain tumours among staff has forced Melbourne's RMIT University to close part of its business school and test for radiation emissions from rooftop phone towers.

As staff reacted with shock, the university yesterday shut the top two floors of the Bourke Street building and ordered more than 100 employees to work from home for the next fortnight.

The closure follows the discovery of five brain tumours in the past month and two others in 1999 and 2001. Two were malignant and five were benign.

WorkCover has launched an investigation and RMIT has promised its own inquiry.

The academics' union last night expressed concern that the tumours were caused by the communications towers on the roof of the former Tivoli Theatre site.

National Tertiary Education Union state secretary Matthew McGowan warned that anecdotal reports from hastily arranged staff meetings yesterday suggested the number of people affected would grow.

"You have to ask some pretty serious questions and we're obviously concerned that it could be linked to the tower," he said.

"This would appear to be much more than coincidence and RMIT has a responsibility to leave no stone unturned in seeking the truth."

Five of the seven affected work on the top floor of the 17-storey building. All except one have worked in the building for at least a decade.

An RMIT academic who did not want to be named said staff - the 16th and 17th floors are home to offices of senior management and lecturers - were "in disbelief, concerned and upset" as they attended meetings and left the building late yesterday.

Medical experts said no definitive link had been proved between mobile phone tower radiation and cancer.

Australian Medical Association president Mukesh Haikerwal said there was no proof of a connection but "if you get clusters of disease it's sensible to investigate."

Dr John Gall, from private health company Southern Medical Services, which has been called in to assess the sick, said last night three of those affected had tumours showing symptoms consistent with radiation.

But he said there was no causal link with the building based on preliminary observations.

A spokesman for state Health Minister Bronwyn Pike said WorkCover would investigate the matter and the Department of Human Services would provide any expertise needed.

RMIT chief operating officer Steve Somogyi said testing was carried out on the building after the first two of the seven tumours were reported in 1999 and 2001. It found radiation and air quality levels within recommended guidelines.

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