A Minneapolis Health Department sweep of licensed adult entertainment establishments confirmed the presence of bodily fluids at about a dozen downtown venues, raising health and safety concerns and prompting department officials to push for updated enforcement measures.
The health department sent letters to 11 business owners last week to notify them that their property had been declared a public health nuisance under Minnesota law.
Another three business owners received letters saying samples collected at their establishments were suspected to be bodily fluids but were not confirmed by a lab test.
A City Council committee will hear the findings on Monday.
"The concern from a public health perspective is, we don't want anything that is potentially infectious material … in public spaces that are not being perfectly cleaned up," said Dan Huff, the city's environmental health director.
There are 17 licensed adult entertainment clubs in Minneapolis, clustered mostly around Hennepin Avenue downtown. Owners could not be reached or did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
The health department started seeing an uptick in cleanliness complaints at these establishments a couple of years ago, Huff said. About a year ago, after a preliminary inspection using a black light to do a visual check for bodily fluids, department staff started working on methodology for a confirmatory lab test.
Late last month, health inspectors visited all 17 establishments. More than 150 swabs taken on site were brought back to a lab and tested for an antigen found in human semen — similar to how a pregnancy test confirms the presence of an antigen found in pregnant women.
Samples that produced positive results were taken at 11 establishments, from surfaces including chairs, couches, floors, walls and bedspreads, health department inspection data show.
Under state law, the health department can order an owner or occupant to "remove or abate" a health threat within 10 days. The department has ordered the 11 establishments to clean thoroughly and prevent the recurrence of bodily fluids.
Beyond that, the health department doesn't have much regulatory power. The department cannot use the state law to issue citations, Huff said, and the existing city ordinance regulating "high-risk sexual conduct" is outdated and difficult to enforce.
The health department findings are cause for health and safety concerns, particularly for people working in these establishments, city officials said.
At Monday's Health, Environment and Community Engagement (HECE) Committee meeting, the health department presentation will include information about occupational exposure to sexually transmitted infections and federal labor guidelines for workplaces where exposure may occur.
Of the 11 establishments where inspections produced positive test results, all but one have private or semiprivate areas, according to the health department. These range from private booths for viewing adult films to rooms with loveseats or beds where patrons pay to spend time alone with an adult entertainer.
Council Member Cam Gordon, who chairs the HECE committee, said the nature of some of these private spaces coupled with the health department findings raise concerns about possible sexual activity at the establishments in question.
"I'm trying to approach it from the focus of, I'm on the City Council, this is the health department, what's the role that we play in this?" he said. "But I think also using that as an opportunity to shine more light on something that's going on in our city."