Findings released in CMS building investigation after several employees diagnosed with cancer

CHARLOTTE — A federal probe into health concerns at a Charlotte-Mecklenburg school building is finally over.

For 15 months, Channel 9′s Allison Latos has been investigating the Smith Family Center and whether it could be linked to cancer cases among teachers and staff.

The building off Tyvola Road still sits empty, no longer packed with students or staff. But the minds of many former and current Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools employees like Principal Ynez Olshausen have been full of questions -- wondering if working there is what caused their cancer.

“I’m not the only one who has asked that question,” Olshausen said.

Olshausen battled a rare face tumor last year.

For almost a year and a half, Channel 9 has pushed for answers to her and other employee’s concerns.

“I’m just so grateful for investigative journalism and the doggedness of following things that matter to a lot of people,” Olshausen said.

Initially, CMS declined an outside investigation offered by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and planned to demolish the building and sell the site. After Latos’s reporting and growing criticism, CMS changed course and accepted an offer from federal officials to look into the growing concerns.

We’ve heard from more than a dozen people who are worried working there could have led to their cancer diagnoses. Now, we have the results of the federal investigation.

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NIOSH officials never visited the Smith Family Center in person, but said an industrial hygienist reviewed existing reports on radon, asbestos, drinking water, air testing, indoor environmental quality assessments, CMS policies and HVAC-related records.

Officials also conducted medical interviews of CMS employees diagnosed with cancer, but only talked to those who worked at Smith Family Center in 2021 before the building closed. Olshausen had already retired.

NIOSH said, “No significant hazardous exposures were identified, and employees are unlikely to have any exposure or concerning levels of exposure to cancer-causing substances in the workplace.”

Latos asked Olshausen how it made her feel to hear them say there is no link.

“First, I want to express my gratitude to WSOC and to you for your perseverance in getting this info. Which clearly neither I nor any of my colleagues would have if it weren’t for you,” Olshausen said. “That conclusion unfortunately brings no clearer answer to the lingering question of why several CMS employees got cancer.

“For now, all I can do is accept these findings.”

Olshausen said she’s focused on her continued fight against cancer and her hope for a healthy future.

“I’ll just have to assume, for my own case, that I’ve had random bad luck and I feel blessed to be here talking to you, and that I have been able to enjoy what medical science has done for me,” Olshausen said. “And I guess as a cancer survivor, that’s what all of us really hope.”

Channel 9 asked CMS if the district still plans to tear down the building and sell the property and we were told the facility is no longer considered surplus. They’ll work with the Board of Education to decide what will happen with it.

As for Olshausen and her cancer, she’s feeling well and will have scans to check for any recurrence next week.

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