City manager: Air quality tests give D5 'clean bill of health'

City manager: Air quality tests give D5 'clean bill of health'

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A clean bill of health.

That's the result of air quality tests performed last week at the request of the police union on District 5 headquarters, Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black announced at Monday's Law and Public Safety Committee meeting.

Common forms of mold were found at concentrations lower than what we are exposed to everyday outside, and radon or asbestos issues were not detected, elaborates a memo Black wrote to City Council and Mayor John Cranley.

One of the common forms of mold found during testing at District 5, Cladosporium, is the same type detected on a sample taken from a basement air duct that FOX19 NOW obtained and had tested last week. The other form of mold detected was Pencillium/Aspergillus, an indicator of wet building materials, either past or present.

In concentrated amounts, these forms of mold may be linked to asthma or allergy problems, though the District 5 results do not demonstrate this to be the case given the concentrations found, Black's memo states.

Moisture was detected "here and there" in the building, and the city will hire an outside expert to deal with that, Black told the committee.

The mold and moisture found at the Ludlow Avenue police station is nothing that isn't in any other aging city building, Black stressed, adding in an interview afterward that the only thing District 5 is guilty of is being old.

"We've assessed the mold, there is not a mold concern," said the city's director of environment and sustainability, Larry Falkin, in an interview outside Council chambers. "We've assessed the asbestos. There is not an asbestos concern. We've assessed the radon. There is not a radon concern."

Black's memo to Council elaborates:

"In response to the concerns raised,  the District 5 building has gone through a number of assessments by various internal and external agencies including the city's Department of Public Services, the Health Department, (Office of Environment and Sustainability) independent contractor SRW, Ecostratum, Tri-State Mold and Radon and, previously, the Sierra Environmental group (asbestos).

"The indoor air quality in the Police District 5 headquarters building is found to be typical for commercial buildings. No conditions were found that would be expected to cause health concerns. No conditions were found that exceed regulatory limits or industry standards.

"We appreciate the concerns brought forward by the FOP and any of our employees related to the quality of workspaces," Black's memo continues. "We encouraged individuals with concerns to bring them forward and we will continue to investigate and remedy items of concern as swiftly as possible."

Black told the Law and Public Safety committee Monday the city administration will continue to address any issues brought to light as quickly as possible and would encourage any employees with illnesses concerns related to work spaces to contact its Risk Management liaison for investigation.

To date, Black noted, none have.

City officials also will continue to evaluate intermediate and long-term options for the building and provide options for council to discuss, prioritize and ultimately decide as part of the 2018 recommendation, Black told the committee.

No determinations or recommendations have been made yet.

Options could include moving District 5 workers to the city's old permit center on Central Parkway once renovations are made, he said.

Renovations could not begin until 2019 at the soonest, he said, and other police and fire services could be located there, too.

Council is expected to adopt the 2018 budget in June.

The city had District 5's air quality tested amid a FOX19 NOW investigation and at the request of local police union leader, Sgt. Dan Hils.

FOX19 NOW began a series of investigative reports on District 5 last month.

Hils exclusively took a FOX19 NOW crew through the building Nov. 16 to expose what he said were "shameful" conditions there including mold, asbestos, moisture, bugs and over-cramped quarters.

He said he received complaints from workers there, and those complaints escalated as officers began to tally up a list of what Hils says stands now at nearly 20 past and present workers diagnosed with cancer, including several who have died.

There is no known link or connection to the building and the cancer pattern. And an independent mold test FOX19 NOW had performed on a sample taken from a basement air duct found a common form of mold that is not disease-causing.

More than a year ago, District 5's commander, Captain Bridget Bardua, told a City Council committee in a detailed presentation with pictures the building had mold, asbestos, mice, bugs and a leaky roof.

Problems and overcrowded quarters are nothing new at the 57-year-old building built to be more of a park shelter facility than a police station. Police commanders past and present have tried for years to find ways to build a new headquarters.

After Bardua most recently brought concerns to the city's attention, Council, however, ultimately declined to earmark $17 to $20 million to build a new District 5 in the 2017 budget.

[Cincinnati FOP to Council: Move cops out of 'shameful' District 5 now']

District 5's routine environmental audit that was last performed in May 2010 and due to occur every 2-5 years was conducted on Dec. 6.

That's a year and seven months overdue.

Falkin told FOX19 NOW it was late due to his department not having enough staff to do timely inspections.

He was unable to explain why the District 5's commander's presentation about conditions at District 5 last year didn't trigger the audit then. He said he was not familiar with her remarks.

Councilman Charlie Winburn and Wendell Young both said Monday that, despite the test result findings, perception of a problem at District 5 was very much a reality for the officers who work there.

The men remained firm in their support for a motion Winburn is trying to get before City Council that would order the city manager to close District 5 and temporarily relocated its workers into another city facility by May.

Winburn hoped to get the motion before Council on Wednesday, but now it likely will be delayed until after the first of the year while Winburn and his staff continue to try to get support from other Council members, said Jacob Hesseling, his chief of staff.

"We have the support of the FOP and we've gotten a lot of calls from cops and constituents who support it as well," Hesseling said.

Both councilmen toured District 5 with Hils earlier this month and reiterated their description of it on Monday as "deplorable."

Young, a former Cincinnati police officer who once worked at District 5, said after going through the building he would quit if he had to work there now.

Young noted during Monday's committee meeting that, back in the 1990s, concerns were raised in the city's human resources, or personnel, department after workers became sick there.

The city checked into it and reported detecting no issues, Young recalled, but then when Winburn got involved, raw sewage and dead insects were found.

"It turns out we were breathing in a lot of this stuff," he said, adding later in an interview Monday with FOX19 NOW "I believe that the administration will stand by its test results, but to me that does not alleviate the problem.

"Officers cannot make up the illnesses they are suffering. They cannot make up the conditions they are working in. The air quality may be fine, but that says nothing about the bed bugs, the risk of taking that stuff home.

"Even if it's just a perception at this point, I believe the perception is reality. The reality is people are working in conditions they shouldn't have to be in," Young said.

"I will agree we can't cure all the buildings at once, but this is a building that bubbled up to the surface. It is getting the attention it needs due to the FOP bringing these issues out and it's incumbent upon the city to respond in a positive way.

"To my way of thinking, that means getting the officers out and hopefully constructing a new police station."

A prominent local civil rights leader, Bishop Bobby Hilton, is calling for District 5 to be shut down "immediately."

His youngest sister, Angela Hilton, 50, is a District 5 officer who was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer earlier this month, he said. It stunned him and his relatives, he said, because cancer doesn't run in their family.

In an interview last week with FOX19 NOW, Hilton said he wouldn't put much faith in the test results because the cancer count among past and present District 5 workers is so high, he considers the pattern an "outlier"

He said he spoke with the city manager on Saturday and the city manager agreed to order data start to be pulled Monday to see if other Cincinnati police districts have a current and previous cancer rate similar to District 5.

The police union president has previously told FOX19 NOW none do.

Some District 5 officers are now seeking legal advice, Hils told FOX19 NOW last week. He reiterated that Monday in an interview with reporters outside council chambers.

He said he understood the test results concluded no air quality issues were detected. And while he said he appreciated the city having them conducted, some officers would be skeptical of the results.

Hils wasn't certain how the District 5 officers would respond to the news. They remain concerned about the building, which he said still has a mice infestation and cramped quarters. He said he planned to go talk to them once he left City Hall.

"Where we go from here, that's a big question," he said.

FOX19 NOW was about to interview officers about District 5 Monday afternoon but, just before the interview began, Hils took a phone call, hung up and then privately conferred with them and advised the officers to leave.

He issued this statement to FOX19 NOW:

"Officers who are afraid to speak to Channel 19 have discussed with me meeting with an attorney and a meeting is being arranged," he said, declining to elaborate.

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