Building where CMS employees diagnosed with cancer worked will be evaluated

CHARLOTTE — The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education has opened a Health Hazard Evaluation with the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health to explore whether there is an occupational cancer cluster at Smith Family Center.

The decision comes after a dozen people who worked at the building say they were diagnosed with cancer.

According to the board, although the Smith Family Center was set to be sold and torn down, it will not be demolished until officials have completed any and all tests recommended by NIOSH.

“These are serious and frightening issues for our employees, and we share their concerns,” the board said Thursday in a statement sent to Channel 9.

CMS moved all employees out of the building in April, after many of them voiced serious concerns about their health, and fears that the building could be the cause.

Those employees said they differed various health issues like migraines, sinus infections and allergies, but much more concerning, were twelve cancer diagnoses, including breast, lung, anal and esophageal cancer.

Channel 9 learned that the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has previously offered to investigate any possible connection between the cancer cases and the Smith Family Center, but CMS declined their assistance.

The board did not clarify why members changed their minds.

The CMS Board sent Channel 9 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”) guidelines1 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.”

Several current and former employees -- some who worked at the Smith Family Center for as long as 9 years -- sent the following statement to Channel 9 asking to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation:

“While we are disappointed in the district’s lack of communication and transparency as well as the amount of time that it has taken to have our concerns taken seriously, we are glad that the district has now decided to open a Health Hazard Evaluation with NIOSH. We expect that a thorough, unbiased, third-party evaluation will be conducted to explore possible cancer-causing agents (including pesticides, radon, air, water, asbestos, etc) at the Smith Family Center. We are incredibly grateful to the people who came forward to voice concerns and advocate for us and for all employees at Smith.”

(WATCH: 9 Investigates: CMS employees who worked at same building say they were diagnosed with cancer)