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‘Very Concerned About Going Back in There': SDSU Building to Stay Closed Amid Health Concerns

Students, faculty and staff complain of sore throats, headaches, nausea from chemical used for roof repairs

The reopening of a San Diego State University campus building was delayed amid health complaints by nearly two dozen students, faculty and staff.

Problems with the Professional Studies and Fine Arts (PSFA) building surfaced in January, when crews began using a chemical treatment to repair the building’s roof. But the building remained open and occupied until March 13.

“We have been sick,” professor Nathian Shae-Rodriguez told administrators at meeting Wednesday. “And I want to know why information has not been communicated to people earlier, because if I had known about this in January or February, I could have gone to the doctor.”

Hundreds of students, faculty and staff were exposed to the irritating vapors and odors, according to reports by campus newspaper The Daily Aztec and inewsource, an online investigative journal.

The four-story PSFA building houses the School of Journalism and Media Studies and the School of Public Affairs, along with a library, biology labs, and other programs.

Professor Rebecca Nee said her doctor recently diagnosed her with a lung disease possibly related to the chemical vapors.

Nee disagreed with the SDSU’s contention that any negative health impacts from the chemical are short-lived.

Nee said she’s been out of the building for three weeks and is just beginning to feel better. “So don’t tell me the effects are just short-term. These are long-term effects, and I’m very concerned about going back in there.”

A scientific expert representing the university tried to reassure the audience. He said the building’s air filtration system worked properly to block any potentially dangerous vapors. He also said there is no evidence of harmful mold in the building.

But Shae-Rodriguez was unimpressed by the expert’s comments.

He said SDSU leadership should stop “hiding behind experts” and instead listen closely to the concerns of students, faculty and staff.

“Take a step back and quit being so defensive,” said Shae-Rodriguez. “Listen to what’s actually happening and what the people want.”

According to inewsource, the county’s Air Pollution Control District began investigating the problem on March 20, the day after an inewsource reporter asked the agency if it had received any complaints about the building.

The agency’s chief compliance officer told inewsource that investigators are interviewing those affected by the vapors. They’re also talking with the contractor and SDSU’s environmental health department.

SDSU had planned to reopen the building April 9. But after hearing from the audience at Wednesday’s meeting, SDSU President Adela de la Torre said that reopening will be delayed indefinitely “to address the ongoing concerns of students, faculty and staff.” She also promised to start work on a “long-term plan to address (other) ongoing concerns raised about the PSFA building.”

That announcement prompted favorable reactions from the audience.

“It was hard to tell what was going through her mind, but she heard us,” said Nee. “Hooray!”

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