Stony Brook University failed to properly secure hazardous materials on campus, according to an audit released by the Office of the New York State Comptroller on Monday.
The audit examined the safety practices of seven different State University of New York (SUNY) campuses. It concluded that both Stony Brook and Buffalo did not properly control hazardous materials such as cadmium nitrate tetrahydrate — a toxic substance that can be deadly if swallowed — and arsenic oxide — which can cause blood abnormalities as well as kidney and liver damage.
“Weak oversight of hazardous materials could jeopardize the health and safety of students and campus communities,” Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli stated in a press release. “SUNY needs to do a better job to ensure these items are kept under lock and key.”
The auditors found that two restricted locations containing hazardous materials at Stony Brook could easily be accessed. “Despite locks on the doors, we were able to gain entry without keys,” they wrote.
The auditors looked at a sample of 22 people at Stony Brook who had keys to areas where hazardous materials were kept. Twelve individuals could not prove that they were authorized to have a key and seven out of the 12 no longer worked for the university.
The audit also reviewed the university’s Chemical Hygiene Plan. This plan lays out policies aimed at protecting workers from health hazards related to toxic chemicals and is required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The auditors found that Stony Brook’s plan was complete and met all the requirements. However, they noted that because the plan had not been updated since 2001, “it may or may not account for current conditions.”
The audit also found issues with the inventory of hazardous materials at Stony Brook. Out of a sample of 10 labs, only four met all of the inventory requirements included in the university’s Chemical Hygiene Plan.
Lauren Sheprow, the university’s media relations officer, stated that Stony Brook and SUNY do not agree with the report’s conclusions, but she failed to refute any of the specific charges made by the auditors.
“Stony Brook takes safety seriously and has implemented physical security and other controls that meet or exceed legal and regulatory requirements to safeguard our students, faculty, staff, and the public from hazardous materials and waste,” she wrote in an email. “University experts in the field of chemical, biological and radiological safety routinely evaluate and review opportunities for improvement to continue safeguarding our campus and communities.”
The Comptroller’s Office recommended that SUNY work more closely with institutions to improve security measures regarding hazardous materials.
“In response to the recommendations, SUNY System Administration will continue to provide guidance and support to the campuses regarding risks related to hazardous materials and waste and compliance with the numerous regulations to which SUNY is subject,” Eileen McLoughlin, senior vice chancellor for finance and chief financial officer at SUNY, wrote in a letter to the Comptroller’s Office. “As there is no higher priority than the Safety of our Campus Community, the campuses will also continue to identify and assess the risks associated with hazardous materials and waste, design effective controls to mitigate those risks, and proactively prepare for emergencies, and balance those needs with the need for appropriate documentation and controls on purchasing systems.