City to test District 5 air quality after FOP raises concerns

District 5 to undergo air quality testing
Fraternal Order of Police President Sgt. Dan Hils (FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Baker)
Fraternal Order of Police President Sgt. Dan Hils (FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Baker)
Harry Black (PHOTO: FOX19 NOW FIle)
Harry Black (PHOTO: FOX19 NOW FIle)

CLIFTON, OH (FOX19) - Cincinnati District 5 headquarters will undergo air quality testing for mold, radon levels and any environment concerns that may turn up, City Manager Harry Black announced Monday in a memo to City Council and Mayor John Cranley.

The development comes two days after the police union president, Sgt. Dan Hils, sent Black a letter requesting such tests and copies of previous test results - and less than two weeks after FOX19 NOW was given an exclusive tour of District 5 by Hils to expose what he said were "shameful" conditions at the Ludlow Avenue building.

"I am pleased the city is taking action to ensure a safe working environment for our police and civilian employees. I am disappointed at the lack of environmental testing in the past in a place where people work," Hils said.

About 134 people, mostly sworn officers, work at the 57-year-old police station. District 5 covers a large portion around the University of Cincinnati and overall serves Clifton, Clifton Heights, University Heights, Fairview, Camp Washington, Northside, Winton Hills, Spring Grove Village, College Hill and Mount Airy.

District 5 has struggled with what Hils and other police officials say are longstanding problems.

Past and present Cincinnati police commanders have worked for decades to get a new District 5 building, to no avail. City officials have no definitive plan or money earmarked for the project.

Meanwhile, Hils said he receives complaints from workers there about conditions including air quality, mold, rodents and a persistent bed bug problem that has necessitated seven treatment sprays so far this year.

Most recently, he said, District 5 officers told him Monday city workers came to the building in the last week, looked at the boiler in the basement, mentioned asbestos and "said the boiler would have to go."

Concerns about the air quality at District 5 come as Hils says he is troubled by a pattern of officers who work there dying after being diagnosed with cancer, though there is no known link to the building's conditions.

"Over the last few years, there have been a number of younger officers that have died from cancer," Hils told FOX19 NOW Monday.

"By younger, we're talking 40s or 50s, maybe right around, up to 60 years old. To the best of our knowledge, of the six or seven that have died, only one has never worked in District  5. All the rest had worked in District 5, and a few of those had worked there a vast majority of their career."

Black's memo reveals asbestos testing last occurred at District 5 in February 2011 and identified several building materials containing asbestos.

"At the time, none of these materials were identified to be in poor condition or were in need of repair," Black wrote.

But, Black's memo reveals "no records of previous air quality testing, radon or mold at this location exist.

"However, based on the concerns raised, the Department of Public Services will work with Risk Management and/or the Health Department to conduct testing of indoor quality conditions, radon levels, mold and any other environmental concerns they determine should be investigated. As additional testing takes place, immediate steps will be taken where necessary to address issues discovered."

The city conducts an environmental audit of each city facility every 2-5 years, on a rolling basis, his memo reads.This last occurred at District 5 in May 2010.

Three regulatory findings and one best management practice were identified, Black's memo states. All the regulatory findings were corrected by December 2011.

The next round of environmental audits at the city's police facilities is expected "soon," Black wrote.

The building has and remains on a maintenance schedule, he added.

In the last two years, 35 work orders have been completed on the building including 13 regular maintenance items and 22 complaint-based requests, Black's memo states.

in addition, the next round of preventative maintenance including work on the HVAC, electrical, plumbing, carpentry and masonry systems is beginning, he wrote.

In a letter to the police union president also released on Monday, Black said he appreciated Hils making him aware of concerns about the building. Black elaborated further on the city's oversight and maintenance history at District 5.

"The city owns and manages buildings throughout the city. Providing a safe working environment for our employees at each of these facilities is a top priority," he wrote.

No indoor air quality concerns were identified in District 5's last comprehensive environmental audit in 2010. A report on a comprehensive asbestos assessment performed in February 2011 documents the facility was "in full compliance with asbestos regulations and posed no threat to occupants due to asbestos," Black's letter to Hils reads.

"As with most buildings constructed prior to 1980, the District 5 Police Station does include asbestos-containing building materials," he wrote. " As long as these materials are undamaged, they pose no threat. In accordance with Federal Regulations, asbestos containing materials in District 5 are clearly labeled to reduce the chance of accidental damage.

"The City of Cincinnati has no record of receiving any complaints regarding indoor air quality at the District 5 Police Station in the last 5 years," Black's letter states. "That includes no complaints about asbestos, mold, radon, or insects."

The commander of District 5, Captain Bridget Bardua, did alert a city council committee last year in a detailed public presentation with photos that the building had mold and mildew in the basement air vents and asbestos, mice and a leaky roof.

Black's letter to Hils does not mention that, nor was an explanation available Monday why the city did not perform mold tests on the district once Bardua brought that matter to the city's attention last year, particularly since the building's last environmental audit was back in 2010.

A city spokesman, Rocky Merz, said once again Monday that Black, Police Chief Eliot Isaac and other police commanders were not available for interviews about District 5. FOX19 NOW has put in repeated interview requests in the past two weeks; all have been declined.

Instead, Black has said in prepared statements the city is aware of the condition of the building and the fact that something needs to be done.

He has said he plans to incorporate the need for a new District 5 building or renovations to the existing one into the city's capital improvement budget as the city considers the overall 2018 budget, which will be determined in June.

The city manager closed his letter to the police union president Monday by stressing that "all our employees deserve quality work spaces and we are committed to ensuring such for District 5 headquarters, as we do for all our employee buildings....We look forward to continuing to work with the FOP in good faith to support our officers, protect their safety and enhance public safety."

FOX19 NOW reached out to the mayor's office for comment Monday. In response, a spokeswoman released Black's memo and re-released a prepared statement from Cranley that she already put out last week when FOX19 NOW sought comment about District 5.

"The administration is aware that this issue must be addressed and as part of the current budget process will determine fiscally responsible solutions to resolve this issue for our police in District 5," Cranley's statement reads.

Councilman Chris Smitherman, chairman of the Law and Public Safety Committee, noted the current city administration hasn't been idle when it comes to the police department.

City officials have been busy with a flurry of activity and spending: hiring new officers, making heavy investments in new equipment, pay raises and new technology for cruisers.

District 5, Smitherman said, "is a problem, but not a new issue. The previous mayor nor manager nor majority of council during that administration worked (on) this issue. The current mayor and administration inherited a problem. District 5 did not just fall apart over the last three years."

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