No evidence of ‘cancer cluster’ at Cathedral so far
Air quality testing conducted at Cathedral High School has shown the level of potentially cancer causing chemicals inside the building to be the same as or below what is typically found outside.
The Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board hired environmental consulting firm Pinchin Ltd. to carry out the assessment after the union representing teachers at the school raised concerns about what they believe is a “disproportional amount” of staff there that have been diagnosed with cancer in late 2016.
A letter to staff from associate medical officer of health Jessica Hopkins says the results show levels of benzene, 1,2-dichloroethane and methylene chloride similar to what would be detected in “urban settings”. “Based upon this finding, it can be concluded that the risks connected with exposure to the levels found at the school are similar to the risks one would come across in everyday life,” the letter reads. “Based on the information you have provided us to date, there is no evidence of a cancer cluster related to an exposure at the school.”
Board chair Pat Daly said that information was shared with staff at a meeting last week and will be passed on to parents and students.
President of the local Catholic secondary school teachers’ union Sergio Cacoilo said he was pleased by the results, but noted two additional teachers have been diagnosed with cancer in recent months, bringing the number of cases of cancer among staff since 1995 to 23.
“The first test, in my opinion, is good results, but we still don’t have the other sets of tests that are going to be coming in,” he said.
The board has asked Pinchin to conduct what is called a “phase one environmental site assessment”, which will look at the history of the site as well as records of its cleanup.
The assessment will take between three and six weeks to complete, Daly said.
“That will make recommendations in terms of next steps,” he said.
The union said it tallied the number of cancer cases, which include lung, prostate and colorectal, from people who have taught at Cathedral since it opened at its current location at 30 Wentworth St. N. in September 1995.
They arrived at this number by asking union representatives, teachers, principals and other staff to recall cases, Cacoilo said.
The union asked for the same to be done at other Catholic high schools in the city. Cacoilo said, anecdotally, there is an average of about five or six cases at the other schools.
Fourteen teachers have asked for transfers as a result of this issue, Cacoilo said.
The school was constructed on an old Hamilton Street Railway site. The union previously raised concerns that an old transformer remains underground on the site and could be leaching into the ground.
Daly said all transformers were removed when the HSR handled the cleanup of the site.
Daly: awaiting results of more tests