It's no big secret that SUNY Purchase has an asbestos problem.
Chances are you've walked past notices of asbestos removal posted at the library, the bookstore, and the Visual Arts Building, paying them little attention. But what if you found out it was falling from the ceiling of your dorm room?
This became a reality for Big Haus residents Vinny Santini, an undeclared sophomore, and his roommate, sophomore New Media major Reinaldo Romero. They were recently removed from their room due to the discovery of asbestos. The fact that it took at least two work orders for their complaints to be taken seriously, they say, is even more troubling.
After observing a crack in the ceiling of the room dripping water the first week of the fall 2012 semester, the two informed their Resident Advisor of the problem and put in a work order to have it fixed. They received no response and Vinny chose to move his bed and belongings away from the leak after a piece of debris flaked off and fell into his mouth.
"I got a nice little taste of it," he said, grimacing. "Delicious."
As the crack continued to drip when it rained, the two asked their RA to put in another work order for them some time around Thanksgiving break. Though they are unsure if it was ever actually filed, their complaint went unacknowledged once again. Meanwhile, the water damage surrounding the crack began to change color, varying from brown to purple. Before long, they noticed what Reinaldo described as "dirty bubbles" from when the leak was active. They left for winter break with the leak still present.
On Jan. 24, when the two returned for the spring semester, they found they had a new RA. After showing her the ceiling, she immediately filed a work order.
Vinny and Reinaldo said a maintenance worker appeared at their room six days later, taking a photo of the ceiling before leaving. He returned an hour later with Assistant Director of Residence Life Denny Santos and Resident Coordinator of Big Haus Valerie Hardt. They took a better quality photo and left, warning Vinny and Reinaldo that they may have to move out for a week or so while the leak was fixed.
According to Santos, this was the first time he was made aware of the problem. Hardt could not be reached for comment. Later that day, Vinny and Reinaldo were called into the Office of Residence Life where they were then informed that the mold on their ceiling was believed to be asbestos and that they would have to pack up their belongings and move out as quickly as possible. They then received their separate new rooming assignments from Hardt.
"It was a huge inconvenience," said Santini.
The two, who have been friends since last year, agreed that the move would have been easier to deal with had they been placed together. Both await the day they can move back into their old room.
Denny Santos explained in an interview that because asbestos removal poses a threat to anyone within a 25 foot radius, scheduling the removal is difficult. The current intention is to remove the asbestos over spring break when the residents of Big Haus will not be present.
Santos said that the asbestos removal will be handled by the Dormitory Association of the State of New York, which oversees all colleges in the SUNY system. He also said that asbestos was removed from the stairwells of Big Haus this past summer, noting that when in solid form it is not a threat to student safety.
"At no point in time was [the asbestos previously found in Big Haus] dangerous for students," he said.
Colleen Rowe, an air sampling technician from Kings Park, N.Y., not involved with this particular case, was quick to note the dangers of airborne asbestos.
"If just one particle of asbestos gets into your lungs it can stay there for thirty years," she said, citing asbestos exposure as a risk for developing lung cancer and mesothelioma later in life.
Until their room is deemed habitable again, Vinny and Reinaldo are trying to make the best of their situation, but admit to feeling frustrated with how the administration handled the problem.
"I'm angry that it took three requests to get it looked at. I was completely unaware of the fact it was asbestos until they told me it was," said Santini.
"It's just a bad situation," said Romero.
The two say that Santos told them that they would be receiving an unspecified amount of money in the form of More Dollars deposited into their accounts for their troubles the day the asbestos was discovered.
When asked about this matter, Santos declined to comment. At present, they have yet to receive the compensation, nor any follow up regarding the amount or when it will be available to them.
Photo credit: Ole Skaar