Chico, California - Asbestos is most likely between the walls, in ceiling tiles, in the ventilation system, and in other places at Butte Hall at the California State University in Chico, but lately it’s always come between faculty and administrators as the two factions bicker about whether or not the toxic material had something to do with the death of a sociology professor and administrative assistant from cancer.
According to an article in The Orion, the school newspaper, attempts by a faculty member to continue to alert others about the presence of asbestos in the busy building fell short when school officials removed the warning signs he placed outside the facility.
The article states that Mark Stemen, Professor of Geography and Planning, posted signs on Monday that explained the particulars of asbestos exposure and warned those who entered the building to be more aware of their surroundings. The sign was labeled “Did you Know?” and included asbestos-related photos and written explanations about the dangers of asbestos.
One sign asked, “What is the condition of your classroom or office ceiling tiles?”, referencing the fact that asbestos-containing tiles were used when the building was constructed back in the 1970s.
It is these old tiles, which may have created airborne fibers that circulated through the air and ventilation system, that Stemen believes may have contributed to the cancer deaths of sociology professor Andy Dick and staff member Tami Harder Kilpatric, both of whom had worked in the building for quite some time prior to their cancer diagnosis.
But before many people had a chance to view Stemen’s sign, concerned individuals reported its presence to administration, which promptly chose to remove it, reiterating that they believe there are no asbestos dangers inside Chico State’s Butte Hall. Previously, Gayle Hutchinson, the dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences; Lorraine Hoffman, the vice president for business and finance; and Marvin Pratt, the director of environmental health and safety, had sent a campus-wide email stating that the building is perfectly safe for work and study.
But Stemen continues to disagree. “The dangers are very real,” he said. “The university’s comments about the air system are a red-herring meant to distract people from the real problem.” He added that the California Faculty Association is requesting that independent asbestos testing be performed.
Asbestos, when inhaled, can cause serious respiratory ailments including mesothelioma and other cancers. Kilpatric died of lung cancer at age 51 in September. Andrew Dick died of atypical lung cancer this past April, a year after he was diagnosed. Both worked in the northwest corner of the building on the 6th and 7th floors, respectively.