KPSU: Sewage gone, problems still remain

    For weeks in July, staff members at KPSU, the student-run Portland State radio station, had been noticing an increasing number of flies appearing in their office. The flies were a result of sewage back-up from the sewer pump located in the back office of the radio station.

    Two months later, many students have criticized how the university handled the situation, and several employees of the campus radio station have complained of health problems as a result of chemicals sprayed by the PSU facilities department to exterminate the fly infestation.

    Sewage began to back up in the pump room of KPSU in July, according to Myron Kingsbury, station manager for KPSU. He said it was cleaned up by facilities that week, but the number of flies in the radio station continued to increase until they put in an official complaint to facilities August 8.

    The day after the fly complaint was received, Smith Center Building Manager Robert Wise and an outside exterminating company sprayed the sump room and the music director’s office with an insecticide. The spray was released around noon according to Wise. He said that the spray was non-toxic, but employees of the station were told to stay out of the office for a few hours.

    Aaron Reyna, music director for KPSU, said he did not receive any notice that his office was going to be sprayed that day. He said that there was no note or message left about the spray and that if Wise told someone they did not inform him.

    Reyna said he was working in his office for about five minutes before he began to feel dizzy. He called Kingsbury, who informed him of the spray. Reyna and the other employees working in the station at the time decided to walk to the campus health center. He said that they were stumbling down the street, and slurring their words, which he said was a result of the spray.

    ”It sounded like we were drunk,” Reyna said.

    They were informed that the chemicals used in the spray were non-toxic and there was no risk of long-term health effects. Reyna said that he still feels the effects of the spray.

    In mid-august Reyna went home to Michigan to see a family doctor, where he received blood tests and a CAT scan. The doctor said he was fine, and only that his liver appeared possibly injured. The doctor could not tell if it was from the chemicals or not.

    Reyna put in a request for workman’s compensation for the cost of his tests, but has not received word back if it has been accepted.

    The exact cause of the sewage back-up is unknown, but Chuck Cooper, environmental health and safety consultant and member of the PSU Safety Committee, speculates that the problem arose when the university cleared a clogged drain, sending more waste than the pump could handle.

    The 10-foot long underground sewage pump serves Food for Thought, and various floor drains in the Smith Center sub-basement.

    The active ingredients of the insecticide are Pyrethrin, Pepperoni Butoxide, and N-octyl bicycloheptene dicarboximide, all of which are rated as having a low toxicity in mammals. Pyrethrin is also the active ingredient in many common lice removal shampoos.

    Cooper said that it is nearly impossible that anyone could have gotten sick from the spray. He said he believes that, in this case, Reyna’s illness is psychosomatic.

    ”If you think you’re ill, you are going to get ill,” Cooper said, “The perception that something was not right led to a general conclusion that they were ill.”

    ”I can’t believe he would say that,” Reyna said. Reyna, a daily bike commuter, said that just last week he blacked out on the Broadway Bridge while riding his bicycle to school. “I’ve never had these problems before the incident,” he said, “It feels like you’re just sitting outside yourself and not aware of what’s going on.”

    Aside from health concerns, KPSU staff has raised allegations that facilities have taken an inordinate amount of time responding to the incidents. The request to replace the carpet in the music directors’ office for instance was put in at the start of the month and it has yet to be scheduled for replacement.

    ”It’s to the point that anything the university says, it will take two weeks longer then they said it will,” Reyna said.

    Wise said that he does not believe there were any such incidents as KPSU alleges, and that the time between responses comes down to a communication issue. “Nobody ever answers the KPSU phone,” Wise said.

    Wise said that if KPSU is unhappy, he has not heard about it. “Nobody from KPSU has complained to me in a month,” he said.

    ”As far as I know the problems had been resolved weeks ago,” Cooper said. “It has been resolved from the health and safety departments perspective.”

    Kingsbury said that the quality of work experience in KPSU has decreased in the past months, and he blames the university’s handling of the aftermath of the broken pump. The sanitary conditions, flies and smells of sewage made them lose DJs, he said.

    Kingsbury and Reyna both said that they wish someone would take responsibility for what they see as an unreasonable amount of time handling the clean up. Reyna said that this could have been fixed months ago if a little more time was put into the problem.

    ”If auxiliary services and facilities had just taken a bit of time and consideration, we could have avoided this whole problem,” Reyna said.

    Kingsbury said that working in the environment they are currently in has taken tolls on his and other KPSU employees’ morale and the bureaucracy of the university is to blame. “Simple human dignity has been lost in the process,” Kingsbury said.