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Indoor air quality inspections not fully performed in SHSU buildings, documented

Senior Reporter

Published: Thursday, April 26, 2012

Updated: Thursday, April 26, 2012 01:04


Meagan Ellsworth | The Houstonian

Sam Houston Village was one of a few buildings that received complaints according to documents received by the Houstonian. There were only four specific complaints that Residence Life gave to the Houstonian.

Sam Houston State University does not perform routine inspections for indoor air quality such as mold and other harmful substances on any of its buildings, including student dorms, despite having a written program stating these inspections are performed annually, officials said.

The Indoor Air Quality Management Plan says an IAQ coordinator responsibilities include: maintaining IAQ records including “IAQ complaints and resolutions; and documentation of any maintenance, repair, or remodeling activity that could adversely impact indoor air quality.” This person is also responsible for “conducting an annual, at the minimum, documented inspection of the premises.”

Mark Shiflet, University Safety Coordinator, told the Houstonian that annual inspections are not being performed because they are not required by law.

“If there’s a complaint, if there’s something that we know that is wrong, then we respond to that,” Shiflet said.

Joellen Tipton, Department of Residence Life director, said the IAQ Management Plan is not a university policy but is a plan developed by the University Safety Office. Tipton said the guidelines are generally followed by all areas of the university, including Residence Life.

On the Safety Department web site, the IAQ Management Plan is listed under the SHSU Safety Manual that is part of its Injury and Illness Prevention Program.

“I could actually make the argument that [the IAQ Management Plan] is actually being followed because we do have preventative maintenance programs, which you could call an inspection,” Shiflet said, “although an inspection usually means you are looking at something to see if it needs repairs or if there’s work that needs done.”

Shiflet said preventative maintenance programs determine when it is time to change belts on air conditioners, when to change air filters and when to check mechanical gear that is prevalent in all buildings in order to prevent it from breaking down prematurely.     

“The heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment is the key piece of equipment regarding indoor air quality,” Shiflet said. “The Residence Life Maintenance department and the Facilities Management Maintenance department work very hard to keep this equipment running so there will not be an IAQ problem.”

Julia May, associate director of Communications and Public Information Officer, said Residence Life conducts at least five room inspections a year as preventative maintenance for any safety and health hazard issues, not limited to IAQ, in order to ensure the safety of students.  

“They try to do this when students are in their rooms so that they can voice any concerns, including those about indoor air quality, they have to the Residence Life staff,” May said. “If the student is away from the room, a note is left advising them of the steps they can take to report their concerns, such as filing a Work Order to have something checked out.”

In Nov. 2010, The Houstonian requested annual inspections conducted by the Physical Plant from 2003 to 2010. Sheri St. Clair, SHSU Facilities Management Plant Operations and Maintenance Work Control Supervisor at the time, replied that their annual reports were on the web page and that no more reports had been produced other than the ones from 2001-2003 on the site. Clair stated that Residence Life should have their own records.

In Feb. 2012, the Houstonian obtained all available records of complaints about IAQ for the last five years. There were only four complaints on record. The information was obtained through a Freedom of Information request after repeated request for inspection documents.

May said the staff looks for any indications that there are problems with air quality as part of the routine inspections; however, there is no record of these inspections. If there are questions or concerns about the area, an outside contractor is brought in to check the air quality. The area will be checked for contaminants, including those that cannot be seen or smelled. Three records were given to the Houstonian showing that many Sam Houston Village dorm rooms went through the mold remediation protocol by an outside contractor.

“Sam Houston State University is committed to providing a safe and healthy living environment for students while they reside on campus,” May said. “That’s why the preventive maintenance inspections take place multiple times throughout the year. Because the inspections look for many things that ensure the safety of our students, including the quality of air, there is no need to do a separate inspection just for the air.”

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