Feds begin cancer cluster study at District 5

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Federal health officials confirmed Wednesday they have launched a cancer cluster study at Cincinnati Police District 5 headquarters.

Nearly a year after FOX19 NOW began an investigation into working conditions and health concerns at the 60-year-old police station on Ludlow Avenue, city officials just last week formally requested the study.

The review, called a Health Hazard evaluation, will determine if workers are exposed to hazardous materials, health risks or harmful conditions. It also will determine if types of cancers reported seem unusual and are related to workplace exposures.

"The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has received a request to conduct a Health Hazard evaluation (HHE) at the District 5 police headquarters," wrote Stephanie Stevens, a NIOSH spokeswoman, in an email to FOX19 NOW Wednesday.

"NIOSH has begun the process of conducting the HHE. NIOSH started as soon as the Health Hazard Evaluation request was made. We have assigned project officers who are now initiating discussions with the appropriate parties associated with the request.

"The length of time an evaluation takes is different for each project. Evaluations of small workplaces for which the health hazards are already well characterized and the solutions for health hazards are well known can be done in months.

"Evaluations of larger workplaces, or HHEs requiring development of new test methods or more complex analyses can take a year or longer.

"At this time, NIOSH HHE Program representatives are speaking with appropriate parties to gather information about the concerns listed in the request. From there, we will decide on appropriate actions."

Evaluations are done at no cost to the employees, union official, or employers, according to NIOSH's website.

"Outstanding," said Sgt. Dan Hils, FOP president, when FOX19 NOW informed him the study was underway.

"I am very satisfied to hear that. I'm anxiously waiting what the results are."

From 2015-2016, there have been 6 cancer-related deaths and 13 cancer diagnoses of staff under the age of 60 allegedly linked to the D5 building, according to a memo last week from Councilman Charlie Winburn to City Manager Harry Black.

Winburn has repeatedly referred to District 5 as a "deathtrap" and now compares conditions inside the building to the water crisis in Flint, MI.

His memo demanded the city manager act within 12 hours to ask NIOSH to come in. Shortly after, Police Chief Eliot Isaac, whose daughter now works at District 5, wrote an email supporting such a review and Mayor John Cranley's office announced he agreed.

"In response to the Chief's request, the City's Risk Management Division has indicated they will proceed with requesting NIOSH perform a cancer cluster review straight away," wrote a city spokesman, Rocky Merz, in an email to Winburn.

FOX19 NOW was the first to tell you about concerns related to District 5 in a series of investigative reports that began in November 2016.

Hils exclusively took our cameras inside the building to expose what he said were "shameful" conditions inside. He turned to us for help after police commanders unsuccessfully tried for years to convince council members to spend money on a new building.

As our cameras rolled, Hils pointed out concerns about mold, asbestos, spiders, a bed bug infestation, mice, a leaky roof and cramped quarters.

During our tour, we asked about the number of times so far that year the building had been sprayed with pesticides as part of bed bud treatment. We also asked if anyone who worked in the building was getting sick.

After our tour, the police union asked the city to conduct air quality tests

Those tests, conducted in December, found no major problem and gave the building essentially a "clean bill of health," according to Black.

Still, saying the aging building was too small for current needs, Black recommended earlier this year that council renovate the city's vacant permit center on Central Parkway in Clifton into a new headquarters.

He later agreed to the police union's request to move 35 investigators and other non-patrol employees into another police facility until the new building is ready in 2019.

Those workers temporarily relocated Oct. 24 into space at the police department's Spinney Field Training Complex in Lower Price Hill.

The lobby closed to the public Oct. 29.

But some 90 employees were left behind, mostly patrol officers. They have been upset for months over the uncertainty of when they would be moved out and where. They don't want to be left behind.

The recent cancer diagnosis of one of their longtime, beloved lieutenants heightened their concerns.

"They are frustrated," Hils said Wednesday. "They feel abandoned."

The move to Spinney Field is considered a quick fix until the city can negotiate a lease to put all officers in a former bank building in Camp Washington.

The mayor has pledged free cancer screenings for past and present District 5 officers not already paid for by city insurance.

That came after the police union unanimously voted last month to demand the city move all officers out immediately and pay for cancer screenings for all active and retired District 5 officers.

If the city fails to comply with their demands, the union will consult lawyers, Hils wrote on Facebook.

Cancer concerns persist, especially over a pattern of at least 30 past and present District 5 officers who have been diagnosed with cancer, including several who have died, according to Hils.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Cancer Institute both say that a cancer cluster is a "greater-than-expected number of cancer cases that occurs within a group of people in a defined geographic area over a period of time."

Because cancer is a common disease, cancer can be found among people at any workplace, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In the U.S., one in two men and one in three women in their lifetimes will develop or die from cancer.

He has said our reporting prompted officers with health concerns and those who have been touched by cancer to come to him and share their stories.

The six District 5 officers under the age of 60 who died in 2015 and 2016 concern him in particular, he has said. Five of them spent most of their shifts in the building.

Hils said long said he thinks there could be a link between the building and cancer, though there is no known tie between the two.

This isn't the first time NIOSH accessed a police facility to see if conditions inside caused cancer among officers.

NIOSH performed a health hazard evaluation on the police department's Criminal Investigation Section when it was located in a Broadway Street building Downtown in November 2008, federal records show.

Police management asked for the study after five CIS employees were diagnosed with cancer between 1998 and 2008, including four who had died, a NIOSH health hazard evaluation report states.

The review concluded the types of cancers reported didn't seem unusual and were unlikely related to workplace exposures.

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

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