Keep canine facility closed, study says

Report commissioned by police union conflicts with one by county, lists safety concerns

May 05, 2006|By NICK SHIELDS | NICK SHIELDS,SUN REPORTER

The Baltimore County police canine facility, shut down since last year after the cancer deaths of police dogs, should remain closed until lingering questions about its safety are answered, according to a study released yesterday.

The report, commissioned by the county police union, comes three months after a county study found no environmental links between the facility and the deaths of the dogs. The new report says that information from earlier studies, along with reasonable assumptions, "suggest unacceptable risks" to workers at the site.

Cole B. Weston, president of the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police, said the study confirms the union's suspicion that the facility is unsafe.

"Until the county can establish that that location is, in fact, safe as a work location, county employees should not work there," Weston said.

He added that the union is willing to meet with county officials to discuss alternative sites for the unit.

In January, county officials said tests on soil and groundwater showed that the site and surrounding Southwest Area Park pose no health risks to officers or dogs. Yesterday, David A.C. Carroll, county environmental chief, issued a statement that said, in part, that extensive tests were conducted before the facility was built, and that the more recent county study's testing methodology "meticulously followed" established federal and state environmental standards and procedures.

"The definitive conclusions of both reports and the recommendations of the outside experts are that the site is safe for use by staff, visitors, dog handlers and dogs," Carroll wrote.

County Police Department officials referred questions to Carroll.

The canine cancer cases came two years after the department moved the center to Southwest Area Park in the Baltimore Highlands area. Athletic fields and other portions of the park were built on a former landfill.

Before the move, the unit, which was created in 1961, had lost one dog to cancer.

In September, county police closed the facility after two dogs died and about 30 employees filed injury reports with the department, some complaining of headaches, dizziness and respiratory problems.

In all, four police dogs have recently died of cancer, according to the police union.

The study released yesterday describes the cancer death rate of dogs that had spent time in the county facility to be "remarkably higher" than the rates of 11 other canine units in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The study, by officials at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, reviewed two previous risk assessments of the facility.

It found methane gas in the facility, raising the concern that other potentially hazardous contaminants might be migrating from the landfill. It also reviewed previous tests of soil and indoor air quality and concluded that the "available site information is not sufficient to demonstrate that risks experienced by canine handlers are within acceptable limits."

"What we adopted is a worst-case approach, which we think is prudent for a public health assessment," said Patrick Breysse, a Johns Hopkins professor who worked on the review.

nicholas.shields@baltsun.com

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