Skip to main content

System Status: 

Literature Building Study

Read about the investigation involving the Literature Building in Earl Warren College.

Questions have been raised about the number of breast cancer cases among current and former occupants of the Literature Building in Earl Warren College. The university is leading an aggressive investigation into the matter.


Over a 17-year period (1991– 2008), 9 people who had worked in the Literature Building at some point were diagnosed with breast cancer, including 8 diagnoses during 2000-2006 in women with a median age of 56. Seven additional women working in the Literature Building from 1997 to 2008 reported cancer diagnoses other than breast cancer. In Winter quarter 2010, a 10th person working in the building was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Initial review

Dr. Cedric Garland, Adjunct Professor in UC San Diego’s Family and Preventive Medicine Department, performed an initial review of the safety of the Literature Building.

In a written report, Dr. Garland noted the elevator equipment on the first floor of the building as a source of electromagnetic fields (EMF) and concluded that "there is a possibility of a mild to modest increase in risk of breast cancer associated with a very small area of the first floor building in very close proximity to the electrical and elevator equipment rooms." The report also stated that exposure to EMF "is unlikely to be a principal cause of breast cancer that has been diagnosed in people who have worked in this small area."

Dr. Garland’s study also considered mold, toxins, chemicals, radioisotopes, and domestic water as possible causes of cancer but excluded them as potential causes.

Interim measures

Dr. Garland's report raised a serious enough concern for the university to take interim measures to protect the health and safety of the occupants of the Literature Building while further investigation was conducted. These interim measures included the following actions:

  • Steps taken in response to EMF concerns:
    • Two elevators suspected as sources of EMFs have been shut down to normal service.
    • The areas identified by Dr. Garland as being potentially at risk of exposure to EMF have been vacated.
    • Older motor-starting devices in the elevators have been replaced with newer solid-state soft starts that reduce current surge from motor startups, which in turn reduce EMF.
    • Older magnetic fluorescent light ballasts have been replaced with solid-state equipment to reduce EMF.
  • Steps taken in response to mold concerns:
    • Water-damaged ceiling tiles have been replaced.
    • All building pipe insulation has been repaired to prevent condensation damage to ceiling tiles.
    • Outside walls have been hydro washed.
    • All air register grilles have been cleaned or replaced.

In-depth investigation

The university asked the World Health Organization (WHO) for an expert on the potential health effects of EMF. The WHO recommended Dr. Leeka Kheifets. Dr. Kheifets is currently a Professor in Residence in Epidemiology at UC Los Angeles, and formerly led the World Health Organization’s International EMF Project. Before being retained, Dr. Kheifets was interviewed by the director of Environment, Health & Safety, with a member of the faculty of the Department of Literature present.

Based on that interview and the WHO’s recommendation, Chancellor Fox charged Dr. Kheifets to perform an in-depth investigation into the potential health effects of EMF in the Literature Building. On February 10, 2009, Dr. Kheifets met with occupants of the Literature Building to hear their concerns and to begin her review.

To assist Dr. Kheifets and to speed the completion of her analysis, the university retained Field Management Services (FMS), an engineering consulting firm, to measure the current levels of EMF in the Literature Building. FMS issued a report on its findings on January 24, 2009.

Dr. Kheifet’s final report was addressed to Chancellor Fox on July 13, 2009.

Significant documents

Electromagnetic fields literature references

Online breast cancer resources

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among females in the United States. About 2.5 percent of all California women 50 years old will develop breast cancer during the next 10 years of their lives. Below are 3 Web-based sources of information on the incidence of breast cancer and other cancers, an assessment tool that estimates a woman’s risk of breast cancer based on her personal risk factors, and a federal report on the sharp decline in breast cancer incidence 1999 to 2003 after the United States Preventive Services Task Force began recommending against the routine use of hormone replacement therapy:

  • The Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool, National Cancer Institute (NCI) – This interactive tool was designed by scientists at the NCI and the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project to estimate a woman's risk of developing invasive breast cancer. The tool has been updated for African American women based on the Contraceptive and Reproductive Experiences Study. This tool was designed for use by health professionals; therefore you are encouraged to discuss your personal risk of breast cancer with your doctor.
  • United States Cancer Statistics, CDC – Official federal statistics on cancer incidence from registries that have high-quality data and cancer mortality statistics for each year and 2002–2004 combined.
  • Decline in Breast Cancer Incidence — United States, 1999–2003, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, CDC – This online report describes stabilization in female breast cancer incidence rates during 2001-2003, ending increases that began in the 1980s.
  • Female Breast Cancer Center — These stat facts focus on population statistics that are based on the U.S. population. The statistics presented in these stat facts are based on the most recent data available. Estimates for the current year are based on past data.
Contact the Director of Environment, Health & Safety, (858) 822-4923.

Note: This page has a friendly link that's easy to remember: