CINCINNATI – City officials will formally request a cancer cluster evaluation of the District 5 police headquarters, a city spokesperson said Thursday, amid health concerns raised by the FOP almost a year ago.
The decision follows a WCPO report that no one – not the city, the police department or the FOP – had ever requested a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to determine if there are cancer hazards in the building at 1012 Ludlow Ave.
City Council member Charlie Winburn got the ball rolling Thursday morning when he cited the WCPO report and demanded that City Manager Harry Black request the evaluation within 12 hours. In response, Police Chief Eliot Isaac sent an email to city officials Thursday afternoon asking for the NIOSH evaluation "in light of the serious concerns at District 5." Black sent an email supporting Isaac's request.
City spokesperson Rocky Merz emailed Winburn just before 3 p.m. and informed him that the Risk Management Division would file a request with NIOSH.
NIOSH is expected to schedule an on-site evaluation, based on the procedure outlined on its website.
Last December, FOP President Dan Hils and Winburn first raised concerns that conditions at District 5 headquarters might have contributed to a higher-than-normal cancer rate among people who have worked there. Hils says six workers contracted cancer between 2015 and 2016.
The city and police department responded by making plans to move all District 5 personnel out of the building by the end of the year. Since then, the FOP and the city have disagreed on a timetable, and last month Hils demanded that all remaining personnel be moved immediately.
Hils said Wednesday that the FOP would hire an attorney and sue the city if necessary.
According to NIOSH guidelines, employers, employees and unions can request an evaluation, but both Hils and Winburn said it was the city's responsibility in this case.
What is a cancer cluster evaluation?
A cancer cluster evaluation attempts to determine whether cancer cases may have a common cause or may be the coincidental occurrence of unrelated causes, according to NIOSH.
NIOSH has information about the process on its website. Here is what NIOSH says, in part:
“Health events, including cancers, often appear to occur in a cluster, which scientists define as an unusual concentration of health events in a defined area or time period. Concerns related to a cluster may also be raised when such health events occur among a group of workers."
“Cancer clusters related to a workplace exposure usually consist of the same types of cancer. When several cases of the same type of cancer occur and that type is not common in the general population, it is more likely that an occupational exposure is involved. When the cluster consists of multiple types of cancer, without one type predominating, an occupational cause of the cluster is less likely. When cancer in a workplace is described, learning whether the type of cancer is a primary cancer or a metastasis (spread of the primary cancer into other organs) is important. Only primary cancers are used to investigate a cancer cluster.”
“When a known or suspected cancer-causing agent is present and the types of cancer occurring have been linked with these exposures in other settings, we are more likely to make the connection between cancer and a workplace exposure.”