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Reported hair loss prompts tests

| Friday, Jan. 7, 2005

Mercy Hospital is testing air quality at its laboratory in the Forbes-Stevenson Building after 10 employees suffered mysterious hair loss earlier this week.

No one was hospitalized and all of the Uptown lab's 75 employees remained on the job Thursday despite the health scare, Mercy spokeswoman Linda Ross said.

"I would say (the employees) are complaining about varying degrees of hair loss," Ross said. "I can't quantify it, though, because I haven't spoken with them."

Mercy hired an independent hygiene contractor and engineering firm to assess the lab's air quality and make sure its ventilation system is working properly, Ross said.

"We are fast-tracking everything," Ross said. "But I can't say when we'll have an answer. Some tests take longer than others."

The Mercy lab's ventilation is separate from the air flow system for the rest of the Forbes-Stevenson Building, which is a block away from the Uptown hospital. The lab is one of four facilities used by Mercy to process patient specimens such as blood and phlegm for patient diagnosis and treatment, Ross said.

Routine safety monitoring, conducted twice a year throughout the hospital, previously has shown the lab to have no problems, she said.

Calls to the lab yesterday were referred to Mercy's corporate communications office. A reporter was denied entrance to the Forbes-Stevenson Building, although a security guard at the front desk said a warning sign was posted yesterday outside the lab notifying employees about the situation.

Mercy leases space in the building, which Allegheny County records say is owned by Forbes Stevenson Corp.

As of late yesterday, the Allegheny County Health Department had not been notified about the potential ventilation problem, department spokesman Guillermo Cole said. In addition, no complaints were filed with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, according to a government Web site.

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