U of W cancer study under wraps
Workers frustrated Essex Hall draft results aren’t being shared
BY SONJA PUZIC
Employees at the University of Windsor’s Essex Hall say they’re upset that the university has refused to share with them a draft report on its investigation of troubling cancer rates among people who work in the building.
Aldo DiCarlo, a physics laboratory co-ordinator at Essex Hall and president of CUPE Local 1393, said the union’s requests to see the draft report have been denied, despite employees’ concerns about health hazards in the building, which houses engineering, chemistry and physics labs.
“They said the report needs to be reviewed by senior management and that they need time to develop a communications plan. What does that mean?” DiCarlo said Monday. “It makes us wonder what’s in (the report). It worries me.”
DiCarlo said considering the serious nature of the investigation, the university should have readily released the report to the affected employee groups. He said he knows of at least five or six Local 1393 members diagnosed with cancer who worked at Essex Hall.
DiCarlo said the unusual cancer rates were first noticed about eight years ago when “all of a sudden, people started getting affected by rare cancers.”
DiCarlo said several Essex Hall employees were diagnosed with types of cancer not typically seen in the Windsor area, such as rare forms of leukemia.
Eventually, several employees raised the issue with management and the university launched a probe last year, sending out letters to more than 500 employees who worked in Essex Hall over the past few decades and asking for consent to look at their medical records.
U of W spokeswoman Lori Lewis said Monday the university has not released the epidemiologist’s draft report because a final version of the findings is expected “any day now.”
“We’re just on the verge of having it ready,” Lewis said. “The draft report will not be made available because it’s just that — a draft. It would not be responsible of us to release it until it’s finalized.”
Lewis said she didn’t know how long the university has had the draft report. Rita LaCivita, U of W’s executive director of human resources, who has been dealing with the Essex Hall cancer study, was unavailable Monday be- cause she was in the midst of labour negotiations between the university and the faculty union, which is threatening to strike.
Once the final report is in, the university “will be happy to address any concerns employees have,” Lewis said.
“We knew from the beginning that there would be a very short turnaround time between the draft and the final report,” she said.
Patrick Seguin, CUPE Local 1393 treasurer and an engineering technologist who has worked in Essex Hall for 30 years, said he’s not satisfied with the university’s explanation for not releasing the cancer study’s pre- liminary findings.
“It’s certainly concerning,” he said. “If there is no problem at Essex Hall, then there’s no reason not to show us the report. It makes your imagination run wild.”
DiCarlo and Seguin said the draft report should have been sent to the university’s central safety committee for review because it addresses a major health issue.
“You’re never 100 per cent sure what’s going on in the building,” Seguin said. “We have an old ventilation system ... and some people are worried about what kind of stuff they’re breathing in.”
Before commissioning the Essex Hall cancer study, the university did air quality tests in the building. The results didn’t set off any alarm bells.
Seguin said the cancer rates at Essex Hall may also be influenced by external factors, such as the building’s proximity to the Ambassador Bridge and the hundreds of diesel trucks that pass through the area each day.