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‘Serious and frightening’: Investigators work to determine if old CMS building caused cancer cluster



CHARLOTTE, N.C. Local Charlotte News – Investigators are working to figure out if an old Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools building caused a cancer cluster among its employees.

The CMS Board of Education calls the issues “serious and frightening” for workers.

There are signs up all around saying the Smith Family Center is closed, but what’s now open is an investigation into a possible cancer cluster.

“I can imagine how helpless they felt. They worked all this time for the school system, and they loved their jobs, and they just felt helpless,” said Laura Meier, a Mecklenburg County Commissioner.

Meier says some CMS employees who worked at the Smith Family Center off Tyvola Road came to her worried that something inside this building may have caused them to get cancer.

“It’s all types of cancer, breast cancer, anal cancer, I believe someone has uterine cancer, it’s different types of cancer, and honestly that’s quite a coincidence they all worked in the same building,” said Meier.

The CMS Board just issued a statement saying the board has now opened a health hazard evaluation of the Smith Family Center with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The school board says the superintendent moved workers off site just as soon as employees raised concerns.

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But Meier says CMS should have acted sooner to bring in an outside agency to investigate.

“I think the pressure has been great, and they’re finally allowing an investigation,” said Meier.

On Tuesday night, Justin Parmenter, a teacher, urged the board to take action.

“We need to handle this situation not by sweeping this problem under the rug but by seeing our current and former Smith employees as people who need our support and by working hard to get to the bottom of what happened to them,” said Parmenter.

Commissioner Meier says employees had concerns over various causes of a possible cancer cluster at the Smith Center, including pesticides to get rid of pests, water from the fountains, and mold issues.

“I hope they get the help they need and the voice they need. I’m glad they’re being heard, they’re being heard, I’m so glad,” said Meier.

The Smith building is surplus property, but the CMS Board says it won’t be torn down until they finish all the tests recommended by NIOSH, and they will make the results of the evaluation public.

The CMS Board of Education released the following statement:

Some CMS employees have raised concerns that the Smith Family Center (“Smith”) building has produced a cancer cluster among people who worked there. We are taking these concerns seriously and recognize how upsetting they are to our employees who worked at Smith.

When the matter was first brought to executive attention, Superintendent Earnest Winston moved employees out of the site. We then began to explore how best to assess the building’s safety and to investigate if employee health has been compromised by it.

To date, here are the steps we have taken: researched the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) guidelines* for investigating cancer-cluster concerns; met with experts in the field; met with

employees of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services; and last week, met with the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH).

The Board of Education has opened a Health Hazard Evaluation with NIOSH to explore whether there is an occupational cancer cluster at Smith Family Center. Although Smith has been declared surplus property, it will not be demolished until we have completed any and all tests recommended by NIOSH.

These are serious and frightening issues for our employees, and we share their concerns. Once we receive the results from the NIOSH evaluation, they will be shared with the employees and the public in compliance with the North Carolina Public Records Act.

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