It’s no secret that Sonoma State University ignored the presence of asbestos throughout the campus. The SSU community has been notified of the exposure on an annual basis for the past seven years. It all started in 2015 when Thomas Sargant, a former SSU employee, noticed a chalky substance on the roof of the physical education building. He reported it to the department manager, who made the negligent decision to cover it only with paint. Sargent showed concern when instead of hiring a qualified contractor to clean the roof beforehand, the department manager ordered a maintenance worker to scatter it with a leaf blower.
Following Sargent’s whistleblowing, the university took it upon itself to fire him after 24 years of employment instead of attempting to address the asbestos issues in any way. He later sought $15 million in damages, alleging retaliation by senior officials was the cause.
SSU sends an annual special notice of the presence of asbestos to the community since the initial discovery in 2015. The notice is provided in accordance with Section 25915 of the California Health and Safety Code. SSU recognizes the negative effects of asbestos exposure, but feels they are monitoring and ensuring it is safe enough to continue without adjusting structures. The notice reads: “Do not drill holes, hang plants or other objects from walls or ceilings made of building materials containing asbestos.”
Expecting that humans, young adults, and even kids in kindergarten won’t make mistakes and eventually risk exposure to asbestos is a bit unrealistic. It was not until the 2021-22 school year that students no longer resided in Zinfandel halls of residence. On the list of buildings on campus that contain asbestos, the entire village of Zinfandel is lit in magenta, signifying a significant amount and distribution of asbestos and lead in building materials. Before SSU decided to move students out of these affected rooms, how did they make sure no one was exposed? Why has it taken so long to remove students from these residences?
Mariah Brown, a third-year psychology major, lived in Zinfandel during her freshman year at SSU. Brown said she felt incredibly upset knowing that they were allowing students to live in these buildings, given that the problem was present long before she and others resided there. “It’s a serious problem that can lead to a host of health issues including cancer…I’m really worried how much I’ve clung to my walls without knowing the risk. I didn’t realize the decorating my dorm would cause so much concern for my health,” Brown said.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring substance in building materials used for insulation. Asbestos.com states, “When asbestos dust is inhaled or ingested, the fibers can become permanently trapped in the body. Over decades, trapped asbestos fibers can cause inflammation, scarring, and possibly genetic damage.
Exposure to asbestos can cause cancer and more particularly a rare and aggressive form called mesothelioma, which happens to be exclusively caused by asbestos.
The university has spent about $3.5 million in legal fines for neglecting asbestos-covered buildings. For example, $725,000 was distributed to all teachers and staff who worked at Stevenson Hall from May 2013 to March 2015.
SSU is most likely putting more emphasis on other projects and jobs that they deem to be a higher priority, which is shocking given that this is a major health issue that can lead to ailments. life.
Amid the pervasive pandemic, the CSU system and the SSU itself have seen a drop in student numbers, residents, and finances to support the university. While the disruption of the pandemic could influence some of the negligence regarding asbestos removal, SSU officials still risk financial and legal breaches. It’s shocking that after having to pay so much to renovate Stevenson Hall, the administration is still willing to risk another lawsuit or other expense.
Asbestos issues are not something trivial that the school can procrastinate on any longer. It may seem like something that can wait a little longer, but in the midst of a global pandemic, tomorrow is never certain. Who knows what other predicted events will happen in the future? Everyone understands procrastination and how stressful the consequences can be, but procrastination is for testing, not for eliminating toxic building materials. What is SSU’s plan if they run out of funds and also get to a place where the asbestos can’t stay there anymore? It is better to deal with the problem when you can than to wait and risk worse repercussions.