Two of the State University of New York’s (SUNY) flagship campuses, Buffalo and Stony Brook, did not properly monitor or restrict access to hazardous materials, according to an audit of seven SUNY schools released today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
"Rules to safeguard dangerous substances were not always followed at SUNY campuses," DiNapoli said. "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."
A variety of hazardous materials are used at SUNY campuses for both classroom and non-classroom purposes. The materials used include cadmium nitrate tetrahydrate, a toxic substance that can kill if swallowed and may cause cancer; and arsenic oxide, which can cause a host of health problems, including severe respiratory and digestive tract irritation, blood abnormalities and liver and kidney damage.
SUNY’s System Administration established the Environmental Health & Safety Office (EHSO), which serves as a technical resource for the campuses, providing tools, training, and communication on best practices and compliance with local, state, and federal regulations, as well as SUNY’s own requirements on hazardous materials and waste. Each campus must have designated employees responsible for ensuring its hazardous waste and material programs comply with all applicable rules, regulations and laws.
DiNapoli’s auditors found the University at Buffalo’s controls over hazardous materials were lacking. There was no certainty that unauthorized individuals could not access the materials and there were limited controls over who could purchase them. Additionally, auditors found the university had incomplete inventory controls and poor record keeping.
For five departments at Buffalo, none had developed their own internal hazardous materials policies, as required by the university. Additionally, none of them maintained a complete or accurate list of employees with access to the materials. The university could not verify the quantities of hazardous materials at any given location for any of its laboratories or locations.
At Stony Brook, DiNapoli’s auditors also found weak controls over who could access and buy the hazardous materials as well as poor accounting of where those materials were being kept. Consequently, the risk of campus community exposure to hazardous materials was not being mitigated.
Of the five other schools auditors visited – Plattsburgh, New Paltz, Polytechnic Institute, Oneonta, and Cobleskill – none of them had significant internal control weaknesses but auditors did identify areas for improvement. For instance, at New Paltz, auditors were able to access 16 labs and prep rooms without the use of a key, card or assistance from school officials. Only Oneonta and Cobleskill had complete and updated Emergency Response Plans.
Still, at Oneonta, auditors found no documentation identifying the employees who were issued keys or employees who are in possession of particular keys, leaving the school vulnerable to unauthorized access to areas containing hazardous materials and limiting officials’ ability to safeguard against intentional or accidental misuse of hazardous materials.
DiNapoli recommended SUNY Administration:
- Provide guidance and support to campus officials in designing and implementing a system of internal controls that provide reasonable safeguards against intentional or accidental misuse of hazardous materials.
- Work with campuses to improve controls over access, procurement, or accounting for hazardous materials as necessary to further reduce risks relating to controls over hazardous materials.
The Comptroller recommended SUNY institutions:
- Improve controls over access, procurement, or accounting for hazardous materials as necessary to further reduce risks. This may include (but not be limited to): assessing risks to access, procurement, and accounting of hazardous materials and implementing controls to address them; and monitoring and enforcing compliance with already established procedures, lease agreements and other university policies.
While Buffalo has the largest student and faculty population of any campus in the state, officials there were not open and responsive to the issues auditors raised. Stony Brook officials, however, acknowledged some of these risks and said they plan on tightening controls to address some of them. Overall, SUNY disagreed with many of the report’s findings and conclusions. SUNY’s response is included in the final audit.
Read the report, or go to: https://www.osc.state.ny.us/audits/allaudits/093019/sga-2019-17s51.pdf
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