Hilton to Council: Conduct cancer outlier study on District 5 police station

Hilton to Council: Conduct cancer outlier study on District 5 police station
Bishop Bobby Hilton and Fraternal Order of Police President Sgt. Dan Hils discuss District 5 police station at FOX19 NOW in December. (FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Baker)
Bishop Bobby Hilton and Fraternal Order of Police President Sgt. Dan Hils discuss District 5 police station at FOX19 NOW in December. (FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Baker)

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - One of the Tri-State's most prominent civil rights leaders is expected to address Cincinnati City Council Wednesday about concerns over District 5 headquarters.

Bishop Bobby Hilton says the cancer rate at District 5 so high, he considers it "an outlier."

Hilton has called for the city to close the building immediately and conduct a study to see if more District 5 officers are getting cancer at higher rates than other employees at the city's other four police districts.

"In a meeting with City Manager Harry Black, I requested that there be testing to see if District 5 is an outlier. He said this was easy to do and would have it completed immediately," Hilton tells FOX19 NOW.

"However, when we expected results of this testing, Harry said he was advised that this testing could not be done or made public because it would violate Hippa. We were not requesting names or personal information of any person. This only raised suspicion.

"I plan to officially present a request for outlier testing on District 5 to City Council. We are dealing with what may very well be a life or death issue. The numbers  of people diagnosed with cancer working from District 5 are too high. Even if city administration does not believe there is a correlation between the building and the high number of cancer diagnosis, it is better to err on the side of LIFE!"

FOX19 NOW also has asked city officials for cancer rates at the other four police districts to see if they are comparable to District's 5.

"There is no information available related to health conditions among employees at various City workspaces," said Rocky Merz, a city spokesman.

His youngest sister, Angela Hilton, 50, is a longtime District 5 patrol officer who was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer in early December. A GoFundMe Account recently opened for her has raised $2,250 toward a $12,000 goal.

There is no known link between cancer and the building, where the city says recent air quality tests conducted at the police union's request turned up no issues.

But Officer Hilton joined a list of at least 25 past and present workers, sworn and civilian, who have worked at the Ludlow Avenue police station diagnosed with cancer, including several who have died, according to the local police union.

Six of those in particular trouble Fraternal Order of Police President Sgt. Dan Hils: all were in their 50s when they died in 2015 and 2016.

Hils said he thinks there could be a link between the District 5 building and the cancers. Last week, a cancer doctor told FOX19 NOW the pattern is concerning and needs more research.

[Related story: Cancer doctor has concerns about District 5 police station]

FOX19 NOW began a series of investigative reports on District 5 on Ludlow Avenue in Clifton in November.

Our cameras are the only ones permitted inside so far to capture images of conditions the police union president described as "shameful" as he called for the city to relocate the 129 officers and 5 civilian employees who work there.

Hils exclusively took us on a tour, pointed out for our cameras mold, asbestos, spiders, a bed bug infestation, mice, a leaky roof and cramped quarters.

District 5 police station covers a large portion around the University of Cincinnati and overall serves Clifton, Clifton Heights, University Heights, Fairview, Camp Washington, Northside and Winton Hills. About 134 people work there, mostly sworn officers.

Recent air quality tests the city had conducted found no issues mold, asbestos and radon, City Manager Harry Black told City Council last month.

Moisture was found "here and there" in the building, he said, and the city will hire an outside expert to deal with that.

"The law department has not received any claim or complaint regarding District 5 or from the individuals who work at the District.  If and when we receive a claim or complaint, we will diligently investigate the validity of the claims and defend the City as necessary." said City Solicitor Paula Boggs Muething in a prepared statement.

But problems and overcrowded quarters are nothing new at the 58-year-old building designed to be more of a park shelter facility than a police station. Police commanders past and present have unsuccessfully tried for years to find ways to build a new headquarters.

In 2015, 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.

Council, however, ultimately declined to build a new facility.

Since our cameras went into District 5, the police union president said our reporting led other officers touched by cancer to come to him and share their stories.

In the U.S., one in two men and one in three women will develop cancer in their lifetime, according to www.cancer.org. One in four men will be diagnosed with cancers they have a risk of dying from; one in five women will.

While Cincinnati city officials won't discuss cancer rates or health conditions among employees at various city workspaces, back in July 2008, police management asked the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to investigate after five Criminal Investigation Section employees were diagnosed with cancer between 1998 and 2008, including four of whom were deceased, according to a NIOSH health hazard evaluation report.

NIOSH conducted the health hazard evaluation in November 2008 at CIS, which was housed at the time in a building on Broadway Street that also houses the Hamilton County Board of Elections in downtown Cincinnati.

"The request concerned a possible excess of cancer among current and former employees," states the report, dated December 2009.

"In addition, management expressed concern about chemical exposures encountered during criminal investigation procedures and about IEQ (indoor environmental quality) in the CIS on the fifth floor, as well as other areas of the building on the fourth, fifth and sixth floors."

They concluded "the numbers of types of cancer reported among employees of the CPD, CIS, did not appear unusual and were unlikely related to workplace exposures. None of the chemicals used regularly were known to cause cancer in humans, and all personal exposures were below OELs (occupational exposure limits).

"Recommendations were provided to correct problems with the design and function of the HVAC and LEV systems and to develop a forensic laboratory health and safety plan," the report states.

The five employees reported to have cancer each had a different type: lung adenocarcinoma, bile duct cholangiocarcinoma, multiple myeloma, melanoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, according to the report.

"The average age of death was 62 years old. The employee still living was not working because of his illness," the report reads. "Their average duration of employment in the CIS was 16 years. Four were smokers and one never smoked."

In 2015, the city bought a building at 801 Linn St. in Queensgate and relocated CIS, the Special Investigations Section and Court Property Unit.

"The relocation of these units will provide an opportunity to better consolidate departmental operations, improve operational efficiency and enhance customer service," a city ordinance shows.

"The Linn Street facility is a six-floor office complex consisting of approximately 600,000 square-feet of office space and will include over 200 parking spaces to accommodate both employee and public parking needs. The debt service resources for this project will be offset by savings resulting from the elimination of current facility lease payments."

Meanwhile, legal action appears imminent over District 5.

Hils, officers and relatives of current and past officers have all met with lawyers in recent weeks.

Two of the attorneys said Thursday they are preparing to sue and hope to run extensive test for air quality, lead and other concerns.

One of them,Tara Clark Newberry, is a former Cincinnati police officer.

The city manager has said that, from an environmental standpoint, District 5 is old but in good shape.

Any improvements or a new building likely will have to wait until the 2018 budget year, he has said. A new building is estimated to cost $17 to $20 million.

He recently told FOX19 NOW he thinks a more likely solution is a renovated building. But officials 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 budget recommendation.

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.

Three Cincinnati Councilmen, Charlie Winburn, Wendell Young, and Chris Seelbach, have signed a motion. It directs the city manager to shut down District 5 by May and temporarily relocate employees into a city-owned facility until a new district can be built.

It is not clear when that motion, authored by Winburn, will be filed with the council clerk or go to full council for a vote.

Meanwhile, an active duty Cincinnati police officer is speaking out and urging city officials to shut District 5 down.

Officer Steve Eder works third shift in District 2 but worked in District 5 from 2007 to 2010.

He is scheduled to undergo surgery Jan. 25 to remove a polyp or cyst the size of a small fist recently found in his large intestine.

Biopsies conducted so far indicate it is non-cancerous, but his doctor warned him he won't know for sure until it is surgically removed and can be completely tested.

"I think with that many people who are experiencing problems that have all been at that building, I think the city should do something, relocate it," Eder said.

"I am 47 years old. I am not your typical cancer patient. So with this many factors, I think the city should do something about that building. I think that the people should be moved, located someplace else or even if it's feasible for a facility to be built that they can move District 5 operations into it, I think it should be done."

Eder said he thinks he will file a complaint over the building. He didn't when when he worked at District 5 because he was a new officer and didn't want to make waves.

"When you are brand new, you just do what you are told," he said. "You don't complain about anything and you don't make waves because you are there to prove you are going to be a viable part of the police department so just kind of let things slide."

He said the air in the building seemed unhealthy and the roof leaked.

"I've always described it as if you walk into the district building that there's almost like a feeling of humidity that hits you, it's kind of like a grunge almost that you just kind of feel when you walk in," he said.

"I had a locker room that was in the basement, which I later found out used to be the shooting range down at District 5. The people there are great. It's just the building itself when you walk in you have that feeling of kind of like a grunge or a humidity, it's almost like a pressure when you walk in the door."

Once, he said he was sitting at the front desk working second shift during heavy rain.

"We had a particularly hard rain that came in and the ceiling actually started to leak and when the ceiling tiles fill up with water a lot of times they will just break and fall apart and I didn't want that happen on me while I was sitting up on the desk," he recalled.

"So I got up and moved the ceiling tile out of the way and as I did, I looked up there and I saw that somebody had taken a garbage can - one of the 5 gallon waste containers – and had actually cut it in half so it fit up in the ceiling and it was stuffed with paper towels to stop the rain from coming in and leaking in from the ceiling. It had been there for a while because it was stuffed with paper towels that I didn't recognize that we had at the district.

"So when it would rain, the water that was coming in the hole in the roof would fill up the garbage can and then the paper towels would absorb the rain and then the humidity from in between the crawl space would eventually dissipate water in the paper towel so this had been going on for a while. There was dust on the garage can from when it had been sitting there."

He said he mentioned it to police administrators and someone came in to work on the roof the following week.

"I just didn't know what to think. It's not really something you expect when you come into a professional building, to find things like that. Somebody obviously did it because the roof had been leaking for a long time and they found what they believed to be a simple solution."

Eder is urging his fellow officers to undergo cancer screening as a precaution.

"Get the screening, get checked out. If there are no issues with you, thank goodness. If there are, hopefully they can catch it in time like I am."

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