Lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma are a few of the many health hazards related to the breathing of asbestos — a set of fibrous minerals formerly used for the construction of buildings prior to the 1980s.
Sonoma State University was founded in the 1960s, and at this time, the primary buildings on campus were Darwin and Stevenson Hall. During the construction of these buildings, safe asbestos regulations were not yet in practice. It was not until 1989 that the United States Environmental Protection Agency established the Asbestos Ban and Phase Out policy which put a complete ban on all asbestos-containing products.
In 2005, Darwin Hall was fully refurbished and remodeled, however, in Stevenson Hall only a few areas were reconditioned at that time.
“We knew there is asbestos in these buildings, the important part is not to disturb it,” said Associate Vice President of Marketing and Communications Susan Kashack.
According to the EPA, due to the nature of asbestos, disruption can occur very easily sometimes by simply rolling a chair on contaminated tile. In most cases, disruption causes the creation of contaminated dust.
Kashack sent an email to students, faculty and staff about air samples taken by a firm called RHP Risk Management. According to their results, no detectable airborne asbestos concentrations were found.
However, according to faculty members, they are testing the wrong place.
In 2013, the university conducted asbestos testing with a different firm called Millennium Environmental. Reports showed 11 out of 112 dust samples had elevated levels of asbestos.
“The airways in Stevenson Hall and the dust are highly contaminated,” said Sociology Professor Peter Phillips. “They are trying to say the air is still safe, but how can it be if the dust is contaminated and it’s coming through the airways?”
Philips has taught in Stevenson Hall for the past 22 years; however, for the last three years he has decide complete his schoolwork from home in order to minimize his time in his office due to asbestos and health concerns.
“There’s no reason why the university would want to hide something like this,” said Kashack. “These are people we work with, it’s ourselves who are also in these buildings.’
The Office of the President, along with those of other administrators including Kashack, are located in the in the first floor of Stevenson Hall. Yet according to Phillips, that area of the building has been remodeled.
“You never know when an environmental disaster like an earthquake might happen, and it could disrupt the asbestos,” said fourth-year Psychology student Breeanne Burris. Burris has spent most of her college career in Stevenson since that is where the psychology department is located.
When asked about the concerns of professors, Burris said, “Anywhere you work you should feel like you are in a safe environment, it is important to be aware of one’s working conditions.”
Currently, there is a lawsuit against the university from a former employee who Phillips says was fired for being the whistleblower of the asbestos problem.
“The faculty should be vacated from the building”, said Phillips. “They should be relocated like they were with Darwin, and it should happen sooner than later.”