The PSFA building was closed on March 13 – six weeks after the university was told of the problem and began air monitoring tests.
The PSFA building was closed on March 13 – six weeks after the university was told of the problem and began air monitoring tests. (Brandon Quester/inewsource)

San Diego County issued violation notices Friday to San Diego State University and its contractors for releasing volatile chemicals that students and faculty said caused nausea, headaches and nosebleeds.

Complaints led the university to close the Professional Studies and Fine Arts building last month, six weeks after it was notified of the problems. The county’s investigation lasted little more than a week and was prompted by an inewsource question about odors from chemicals used during a roof repair project.

The county’s Air Pollution Control District sent notices to SDSU, Sylvester Roofing and Tremco Roofing & Building Maintenance. They found violations of the California Health & Safety Code and district regulations.

The violations describe, “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 …” the violations read, “the release of coal tar pitch volatiles into the building.”

SDSU, Sylvester and Tremco have 10 business days to respond to the county in writing of actions taken to correct the violations or reasons they believe the violations didn’t occur.

The county will then determine whether to dismiss the violations, assess penalties or move forward with civil or criminal prosecution.

About this story

inewsource has been working with two reporters from the SDSU campus newspaper, The Daily Aztec, in its ongoing coverage of the frustration among teachers, students and staff with the university’s handling of odor issues from roof repair work in a campus building.

The reporters, Lauren J. Mapp and Bella Ross, also are inewsource interns. inewsource is located on the SDSU campus, and its mailing address is in the affected Professional Studies and Fine Arts building.

Anthony Zaffuto, the CEO of Sylvester Roofing, told inewsource Tuesday he disagreed with the county’s findings and has already provided them with a response.

“We basically stated that we took the precautionary measures required,” Zaffuto said.

SDSU told inewsource Tremco “did not provide any construction work” on the roofing project, but Zaffuto said Tremco was the “authority” on the project, and that he took direction from Tremco. He said his company objected to the materials Tremco wanted them to use “due to the odor,” but they were used anyway.

Tremco’s director of environmental health and safety, George Loder, sent a statement to inewsource Tuesday.

He did not name Sylvester Roofing, but said the contractor was at fault. His statement read, “Tremco observed that not all roofing materials were installed per the repair specifications.  It was also noted that some repair materials were tracked into the building penthouse and stairwell.”

Lodor’s statement concluded, “Tremco has been working closely with the installation contractor and SDSU representatives to bring full resolution to the situation.”

SDSU officials have repeatedly described odors in the PSFA building as non-toxic, citing air quality tests performed by its Department of Environmental Health and Safety and an independent environmental consultant.

As of last week, 22 people had filed incident reports with the university, according to SDSU Chief Communications Officer La Monica Everett-Haynes.

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Rebecca Coates Nee, an associate professor in the School of Journalism & Media Studies, was one of them.

“Since the beginning of the semester, I began experiencing headaches, coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath, all of which became increasingly severe through February,” she told inewsource.

“I finally saw my doctor on Feb. 27 and was diagnosed with asthma, with no prior history of the disease.”

Coates Nee said she’s concerned about lasting effects from the chemical exposure and what will happen with the PSFA building moving forward.

The building has four floors and houses the School of Journalism and Media Studies and the School of Public Affairs, as well as a small library, biology labs, and cultural and educational programs such as the Confucius Institute and Upward Bound.

SDSU has scheduled two community forums on the topic that will include a physician, a fire safety expert and an industrial health consultant. The first forum is Wednesday from 10 to 11:30 a.m. The second is April 8.

The building is scheduled to reopen the following day – April 9.

Tremco’s troubled past

inewsource asked SDSU spokeswoman Everett-Haynes to clarify previous statements that Tremco did not provide any construction work and to explain why the school used Tremco for the roof repairs, given the company’s history:

  • Tremco settled a case with the Justice Department involving roofing supplies and services for $60.9 million in 2013. The company was charged with filing two false claims with the General Services Administration and having “marketed generic products as a superior line of the same product and used a defective adhesive formula in its roofing systems.”
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission charged their parent company in 2016 for filing false and misleading documents with the federal agency and said Tremco overbilled the government more than $27 million.
  • The Ohio Attorney General’s Office accused Tremco of conceiving and executing a scheme to use subpar materials at a school district in the state.

Everett-Haynes did not respond to inewsource’s questions by publication.

Interns Bella Ross and Lauren Mapp contributed to this report.


We’ll let you know when big things happen.

Brad Racino was the assistant editor and senior investigative reporter at inewsource. He's a big fan of transparency, whistleblowers and government agencies forgetting to redact key information from FOIA requests. Brad received his master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri in...