CINCINNATI -- Despite a police union-led outcry that led to most District 5 staff being reassigned to another building for safety concerns, a hazard evaluation report released Thursday found there was no reason to believe conditions at the district headquarters were hazardous to employees' health or had contributed to the development of cancer.
Fraternal Order of Police president Dan Hils said in 2016 that six District 5 workers had developed cancer in the prior two years; the widow of a former District 5 officer sued the city in early 2017, alleging "toxic and hazardous" conditions there caused his fatal cancer.
The controversy grew to include Mayor John Cranley, city manager Harry Black and city council members such as Charlie Winburn, the last of whom accused other officials of personally "stonewalling" Hils' effort to have the Ludlow Avenue building closed for employees' safety.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, however, found "evidence does not suggest that the cancers identified among FOP bargaining unit employees are associated with working in District 5."
NIOSH drew its conclusions by examining the anonymized insurance records of FOP members who had filed for cancer treatment and comparing the data to national averages.
For a true "cancer cluster" to exist, establishing the possibility that workplace hazards had caused it, employees of District 5 would need to have greater rates of cancer than the overall population -- which clocks in at about 40 percent -- and a notable concentration of the same types of cancer.
The report concluded that studied incidences of cancer among Cincinnati police employees were not unusual in either their frequency or type; even if all 33 FOP members who made insurance claims for cancer treatment between 2014 and 2017 had worked at District 5, they would only comprise 25 percent of the building's staff.
"Cancer cases may appear to occur with alarming frequency even when the number of cases is not more than would be expected in the general population because cancer is common, the population is aging, and more people are surviving cancer," researchers wrote.
NIOSH's findings fly directly in the face of Hils' claim that District 5 headquarters was a "dump" and his increasingly vociferous insistence that city leaders move personnel out to protect them.
Hils anticipated this -- in November 2017, he claimed the study would exclude data he believed was crucial to reaching a correct conclusion. On Thursday, he took the same stance.
"NIOSH can say whatever, and I am telling you I don’t think it’s going to change one person’s mind," he said. "I am not a scientist or a doctor or anything, but I know a tiny bit about an investigation, and it didn’t seem like this was anything that they are in a deep search for the truth."
According to NIOSH's report, Hils did not respond to written requests for information in both 2017 and 2018.
It took months of controversy, some employee relocation and an inquiry from WCPO for anyone involved -- Black, elected officials, the police department or the FOP -- to request the NIOSH evaluation at all.
Prior tests for mold, radon and asbestos found the air quality in the building "typical for commercial buildings," according to a memo from Black. Still, he recommended closing the building, saying it had become too small for personnel.
In the long term, the Cincinnati Police Department still plans to move District 5 headquarters to the former Permit Center at 3300 Central Parkway, but the necessary renovations to make a new home for the district will not be completed until 2019 at the earliest.