University ordered to pay once again for asbestos

In a disturbing trend that continues to turn up across the U.S., the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration charged Sonoma State University with nearly $6,000 in fines. 

SSU discovered a low level of asbestos during the removal of two long-jump tracks near the football field last spring. Asbestos refers to six naturally occurring fibrous minerals that have the ability to resist heat, fire and electricity that may be harmful to health if exposed to. 

The track material was tested for the presence of materials but all tests came back negative or with non-hazardous levels; therefore, the removal of the track continued while following standard construction regulations. Soon after, two percent chrysotile asbestos in a layer below the rubber matting was found resulting in discontinuation of construction work and the hiring of an outside abatement company to remove the materials, said SSU Environmental Health and Safety officials. 

“The university has taken steps to ensure that additional testing is performed in future similar situations,” said Tyson Hill, senior director for risk management and safety services. 

Cal-OSHA cited SSU for multiple violations, including not providing workers with protective clothing and respirators and ensuring the proper disposal of the outdoor track to minimize asbestos. 

“It’s important to note that when the issue arose in the spring of 2017,” Hill said, “The SSU Environmental Health and Safety Department contacted and worked with Ca-lOSHA to ensure proper notification was made and that the abatement of the low level of asbestos was disposed correctly and employees were informed.” 

Three employees and a student-worker were informed about it and were provided the options of filing an injury report, seeing an occupational physician and requesting a chest X-ray. None pursed the offered course of action, officials said. 

The former asbestos-related incident in Stevenson Hall of March 2017 resulted in more than $2.9 million in penalties, in addition to the $3.5 million paid in legal fees to take the case to trial.

More information related to the asbestos management plan and emergency response can be found at https://web.sonoma.edu/ehs/.