LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — The city of Los Angeles breaks ground Monday on a new police facility in Northeast LA.
Some officers are concerned their current home is literally making them sick.
As CBS2’s Investigative Reporter David Goldstein reports, the officers don’t believe the new building will be much better.
LAPD Officer J.C. Duarte gets emotional when he reads off the names of colleagues who have died from cancer.
“James, Mike, Bill, Reggie…,” says Duarte, his voice trailing off, “Sorry.”
“I worked with these people. They were my friends,” says Duarte.
All the men worked together at LAPD’s Northeast Division on San Fernando Road.
Duarte says in 27 years there, he’s seen his share of illnesses.
“In ’91,” says Duarte, “I was working with a partner who ended up dying of a very rare cancer and it started raising some flags. About four years later, I developed a tumor that my doctor was unable to explain.”
He’s not alone, Goldstein reports.
The name of the disease is Pemphigus Vulgaris, an autoimmune disorder that involves sores and blisters to the skin and mucus membranes.
Officer Lenning Davis also works the Northeast Division.
“In early 2000,” says Davis, “I was diagnosed with an extremely rare autoimmune disease that has hospitalized me twice and put me on medications that I’ll have to be on for the rest of my life.”
Then there’s Officer Kelly Mahon. She’s been diagnosed with brain cancer. She also works at the Northeast station.
“When somebody shows you a picture of something on your brain — a big ball — that’s not supposed to be there, it’s a little shocking,” Mahon says, “It’s a little overwhelming.”
Officer Mahon didn’t want to be interviewed for this story but gave the okay to let Goldstein show her on a YouTube video where she says she hopes to recover from her illness.
The officers think it is more than just coincidence that all these illnesses have struck them. The building used to house a Kodak film processing lab that used toxic chemicals. The officers believe the building’s history had led to their illnesses.
“I have no other explanation for it, I don’t know 10o percent that it was given to me by this station. But I feel that it has,” Davis said.
The officers are told Goldstein the illnesses don’t seem to be just happening now.
Joe Galindo worked as an officer in the Northeast division when it opened in 1983 until he retired in 2007.
Goldstein asks Galindo, “What do you remember though back then about any problems?”
Galindo replies, “The only thing I remember is it was always in everyone’s mind. The station is toxic. There’s people dying of cancer here,” Galindo said.
CBS2 did a report about the station in 1996. That report showed something eating through the outside wall. It also showed rooms there, sealed and awaiting an environmental cleanup. At the time, officers were complaining about headaches and cited cases of cancer.
Fast forward to 2014.
In just a few days, the city will break ground on a new $30 million station — set to be completed late next year.
The only problem, according to some of the officers, is that it’s located right next door to the old station.
Many officers believe that doesn’t make sense.
“My concern is they’re going to build the new station and we’re moving in, they’re going to start demolishing the old station and they’re going to find some things that are very hazardous,” says Duarte..
Environmental studies done by the city confirm that.
“Chemical contaminants have been identified in the soil under and adjacent to the existing administration building. They include cyanide, heavy metals, hydrocarbon compounds, and a ferro-cyanide dye commonly known as Prussian Blue”
However, the building project still got a green light.
“No evidence of significant soil contamination was observed”
Goldstein asked LAPD Assistant Chief Sandy Jo MacArthur is she believed the new building was safe?
“I do,” she said.
MacArthur told Goldstein that she’s been assured there’s no safety concerns but knows some officers are fearful.
“My own son works there,” she says, “He’s a police officer who’s young on the job. So I am aware the concern continues to surface.”
MacArthur pointed out that studied in the late 90s found no serious health hazards.
She admits LAPD hasn’t done a comparative study on illnesses in the Northeast division versus other stations in 14 years.
The last time the study was done, in 2000, there was no difference.
“No difference in the cancer rates?” Goldstein asks.
“At this point, no,” says MacArthur. “But we are still looking at it to make sure there are no issues.”
Officer Duarte can ask for a transfer but says Northeast is his home.
“I love it here,” he said.
The department says they’ll distribute data that will show it’s safe to work on the premises — the current building and the future one.
They’re hoping, reports Goldstein, that the new building will put to rest the old fears.