Science building air investigated

Faculty members at CSM complain of respiratory illness

SAN MATEO — The College of San Mateo’s brand-new science building has had its ventilation system re-tuned, its interiors washed and its air filtered following a complaint filed by six faculty members who said they developed respiratory problems after moving into the building in July.

Experts upgraded the software controlling the building’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system three weeks ago and crews completed an industrial cleaning of the building Thursday, according to facilities director Diane Martinez. Cleaners filtered the building of particulate matter after investigators found dust composed of cellulose in two classrooms, according to Bob Kuykendall of the Denali Group.

“We collected some surface samples, and the preliminary report says the materials are … like paper fibers,” Kuykendall said. “We’re going to take some additional samples from the ceiling tile — we think this is where it came from.”

Cellulose is not harmful to humans, and the fibers were too large to cause respiratory problems, according to Kuykendall.

Both the HVAC recalibration and the industrial cleaning were prompted by faculty requests, according to Barbara Christensen, spokeswoman for the San Mateo County Community College District.

“Some of the issues at CSM appear to be related to the HVAC system in the new building,” Christensen said. “We are doing an industrial cleaning of the building because faculty believe that it had not been cleaned properly.”

The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration is still wrapping up its investigation of the building, according to associate industrial hygienist Paul Guiriba.

“We have tested the air quality, and now we’re waiting for it to come back from the laboratory to see what we have,” Guiriba said. He could not estimate when the report would be complete.

OSHA is also performing a separate investigation at Skyline College, where three faculty members working in the same building said they developed tumors, according Christensen. Representatives with that investigation could not be reached for comment Thursday.

CSM’s $28.3 million, 58,000-square-foot science building, which opened to students in late August, was paid for by the $207 million Measure C construction bond. It replaced the college’s original science headquarters, built in the 1960s.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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