Asbestos Controversy At Sonoma State University

Illustration of potential asbestos exposure in a building

Vice President of Administration and Finance, Laurence Furukawa-Schlereth, announced on Thursday that Sonoma State University continues its plans to renovate Stevenson Hall despite the current asbestos controversy. Furukawa-Schlereth claims the renovation is not directly related to asbestos.

“The building is nearly 60 years old. All the basic systems that run the building are coming to the end of their useful life,” said Furukawa-Schlereth.

The investigation continues into the conflicting results from tests done by the university and tests conducted by a private firm associated with ex-employee (and certified asbestos consultant) Thomas Sargent’s lawsuit against the school. Sargent claimed Sonoma State University mishandled asbestos for many years.

The Sonoma State Star provides a detailed timeline for asbestos testing. The trial will take place on July 29 at Sonoma County Superior Court. A press conference will occur at Sonoma State on April 28.

Since Furukawa-Schlereth doesn’t want to limit the renovation to asbestos, a feasibility study would kick-off the project to identify exactly what will be renovated and the associated costs. A certified consultant would take care of this and it would then go to the CSU to compete for funding versus other campus projects.

“Essentially what we would get is a brand new building,” said Furukawa-Schlereth. “Notably we would have asbestos issues removed, but also appropriate heating and ventilation, good electrical systems, and effective classrooms.”

Most buildings built in the U.S. before 1980 do contain asbestos. Not until the late 1970s were guidelines proposed to prohibit any new uses of the toxic mineral and warn individuals that any amount of asbestos—no matter how small—could result in the development of serious and fatal pulmonary diseases like asbestosis and mesothelioma cancer.

Chair of the Academic Senate, Richard Senghas, hopes to hire an independent firm to complete asbestos testing. He plans to be selective when picking a firm so it’ll be legitimate with no special bias shown to the plaintiff or administration.

“People must feel like whatever organization is invited to do the testing is disinterested enough and not speaking for one side or the other,” said Senghas.

According to President of the California Faculty Association (CFA) at Sonoma, Elaine Newman, the faculty has hired a retired employee from the California Occupational Safety and Health Department who is also an independent consultant. The department is responsible for asbestos regulations and their enforcement.

The consultant will review the conflicting testing reports and advise the CFA based on any discoveries. A grievance has already been filed on behalf of the CFA regarding the asbestos controversy.

Senghas thinks this consultant hired by the CFA technically can’t validate any results because the administration and plaintiff have not given their approval, but the CFA will forge ahead.