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Students, staff claim SDSU building odor made them sick

Posted at 6:41 PM, Apr 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-03 20:27:23-04

UPDATE: SDSU officials decided Wednesday to keep students and staff out of the building due to complaints.

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Nearly two dozen students and staff at San Diego State University say a chemical odor in one of the buildings made them sick.

The Professional Studies and Fine Arts building was undergoing construction when the complaints began in January and has been closed since March 13.

Students and staff reported sore throats, headaches, even nosebleeds. The university says there were 22 incident reports.

The school says Environmental Health and Safety has performed air quality tests regularly since January showing the vapor levels in the building were non-toxic. SDSU brought in Expert Joel Berman who explained to students and staff Wednesday the two items causing the odor were coal tar pitch and asphalt. He said they were never at impermissible levels and were never a health hazard, despite the complaints of the staff.

Staff did not take that well, "I think a majority of people are feeling very upset because there's this sense that we're all being gas-lit and being told that our common experience is not real or valid," one woman said.

The Air Quality Control District is investigating, filing a Notice of Violation to the school as well as the contractors hired by SDSU. The violation reads, "discharging from a source, quantities of air contaminants or other material which cause injury, detriment, nuisance or annoyance to any considerable number of persons. Specifically for the application of Tremco Tremfex to the San Diego State University Professional Studies and Fine Arts building roof, causing the release of coal tar pitch volatiles into the building."

The initial construction was to install rooftop mechanical shafts. The initial patching of the roof around the new shafts was done improperly, according to SDSU administrators. The re-patching was what caused the odor.

San Diego State is planning to hold forums on April 3 and April 8 to give updates about the building repair and address safety concerns.

President of the university, Adela de la Torre, stated they learned a lot from the forum, and it struck a chord with her. She said the university will work to be more communicative with students and staff and no one will enter the PSFA building until it is safe.

If you're a student experiencing these symptoms, the university directs you to visit the Health Services Building. Staff should notify their superiors, who then file a report.