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Audit: SBU needs tighter hazmat controls

Rules to monitor, restrict and account for hazardous materials "were not always followed" at Stony Brook University and University at Buffalo, the state comptroller's office found.

The main entrance to the west campus of

The main entrance to the west campus of Stony Brook University. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

Stony Brook University’s controls over hazardous materials are “weak” and in need of more security, according to a state comptroller's audit released Monday.

The audit, which looked at safety practices at seven State University of New York schools, found that the monitoring and restricting of hazardous materials at two of the system’s campuses — Buffalo and Stony Brook — were lacking, putting the college communities at risk.

“Rules to safeguard dangerous substances were not always followed at SUNY campuses,” Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said in a news release. “Weak oversight of hazardous materials could jeopardize the health and safety of students and campus communities. SUNY needs to do a better job to ensure these items are kept under lock and key.”

The audit at Stony Brook found weak controls over who could access and buy such materials, as well as “poor accounting of where those materials were being kept," according to the report.

“Consequently, Stony Brook officials have less assurance that the risk of campus and community exposure to hazardous materials is reasonably mitigated,” the audit said.

SUNY campuses use a variety of hazardous materials for non-classroom and classroom purposes, such as laboratories, according to the report. Among them are cadmium nitrate tetrahydrate, which is toxic if swallowed and may intensify fires. Another is arsenic oxide, which also may be fatal if swallowed and harmful if inhaled, the report said.

SUNY spokeswoman Holly Liapis, in a statement, said the campuses are heavily regulated by multiple federal agencies.

“We spend substantial resources on aggressively maintaining strong compliance and risk reduction programs to meet the approvals of these highly qualified organizations and their rigorously trained experts,” Liapis said. “It is unclear how the Office of the State Comptroller’s accountants who produced this document deem themselves qualified to judge the highly trained professionals, complex laboratories, and intricate technical practices of our campuses when it comes to the handling of hazardous waste and materials.”

Lauren Sheprow, spokeswoman for Stony Brook, said the university "has implemented physical security and other controls that meet or exceed legal and regulatory requirements" as protection against hazardous materials.

Saying that SUNY and Stony Brook "do not agree" with the report's conclusions, Sheprow said in a statement, "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.”

Each SUNY campus is required to have an emergency response plan and must designate employees responsible for ensuring that hazardous waste and material programs comply with local, state and federal regulations, as well as SUNY requirements.

 SUNY established the Environmental Health and Safety Office to serve as a technical resource for campuses on best practices.

None of the five other schools visited — Cobleskill, Oneonta, New Paltz, Plattsburgh, and Polytechnic Institute in Utica — had significant internal control weaknesses, but auditors identified areas for improvement, according to the report.

The auditors recommended giving guidance and support to campus officials to design and implement internal controls that provide reasonable safeguards. They also suggested that SUNY work with campuses to improve controls over access, procurement and accounting for materials.

The full audit is available at: https://osc.state.ny.us/audits/.

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