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School Board Schedules August 16th Meeting Air Quality Test Results to Be Unveiled

The Town claims the landfill has nothing to do with air quality issues at Frank P. Long Intermediate School. - photo by Barbara LaMonica

The Town claims the landfill has nothing to do with air quality issues at Frank P. Long Intermediate School. – photo by Barbara LaMonica

By Barbara LaMonica
The South Country School Board has scheduled a special public meeting for August 16th at Bellport Middle School, where final test results of all air and soil testing particulates relating to the Brookhaven Town Landfill and concerns that may be affecting the health of an estimated 700 students, as well as staff attending the Frank P. Long Intermediate School will be unveiled. The public portion of the meeting is slated to begin at 7:30 p.m.
The school district has been facing mounting pressure from parents and school personnel over decades, and more recently during the last three years, to close the school after concerns over whether reports of increasing illnesses and deaths may be allegedly linked to potential carcinogens and odors emanating from the 300 foot high mound, 192 acre Brookhaven Town Landfill. Frank P. Long Intermediate School is located about 1.7 miles southeast of the landfill, two miles southeast of the Long Island Compost Great Gardens Compost and about one half mile north of one asphalt plant and approximately one half mile west of another.
South Country School Board President Cheryl Felice said in an interview this week that the Board of Education is “actively considering all options to protect students, teachers, staff and administrators, because their health and safety are our number one priority.” Felice said once the Board evaluates environmental testing and hears recommendations of the experts at the August 16th meeting, the Board will subsequently base its decision on what is best for the health and safety of those attending the school as well as consider short and long term goals.
“Even if the school is ok to open in September, certain maintenance is still needed,” Felice said, adding, “There are some test findings that have nothing to do with toxins and are not related to the landfill that need repair such as ceilings around windows. And,” Felice pointed out, “past remediation with asbestos abatement has all been done, but now we check to make sure everything stays intact.”
In a recent letter addressed to the South Country School Community, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Joseph Giani underscored Felice’s position that “ensuring the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff is our number one priority,” which, he said, is evidenced by the Board’s authorization for additional and more extensive testing. The results of those tests are to be announced and discussed at the August 16th meeting. In the wake of the latest round of testing, the administration has prepared a number of options to relocate the district’s fourth and fifth graders, should the Board decide to close Frank P. Long Intermediate.
Felice said “the district put together all contingent costs for all options but we haven’t reviewed all of those in detail. If Frank P. Long closes, then all options are on the table and we will determine at that time, and after hearing the experts, which option we take.” Certain options would include increasing class sizes which would then equate to eliminating some teaching positions. “Each option comes with its own complex set of issues,” Felice cautioned.
Among those options from which the board can choose, according to Felice, are constructing portable classrooms. If the board were to choose the portable classroom option which Felice compares to constructing pre-fab facilities, eight units (each unit containing two classrooms) would be built for a total of 16 classrooms. The portable units would be constructed on real estate associated with both Verne Critz and Kreamer Street elementary schools. Costs associated with portables include $300,000 for the foundation per unit on top of an additional $30,000 to $50,000 to build the unit and sewer hookups.
Another option the board may consider if Frank P. Long closes is renting vacant space from Sachem School District which became available when that district closed two schools due to budgetary issues and declining enrollment at a cost of $848,000 to rent Tecumseh, or an estimated $1 million to rent Gatelot, exclusive of transportation-related costs.
Asked about budgetary considerations and fiscal impacts on the community and district as the board prepares to make decisions following the August 16th test result findings, Felice said the district has between $4 million and $5 million in reserves that is left for a rainy day. Depending upon the test result findings and Board’s ultimate decision on whether or not to close the school, the district may have revenue left in the fund, or, the reserve could be depleted. If costs to close the school and relocate students, faculty and staff exceed the reserve fund, any additional expenditure over and above that which is in the reserve, Felice said, would need voter-approval. “Every option has its ripple effects and many tentacles,” she said.
From an environmental and health related standpoint, Adrienne Esposito, executive director of ‘Citizens Campaign for the Environment’ told South Shore Press in an interview this week that “The landfill is a health problem not only for the school, but also for the surrounding community. The school board has been saddled with Brookhaven Town that has been successfully covering the problem,” Esposito continued, “and closing the school doesn’t solve the problem because children deserve to be safe in school and at home.”
Speaking to some of the test results, Esposito cited benzene and hydrogen sulfide as two contaminants that have been detected in the air north and south of the landfill that she said have been directly linked to the landfill. “The landfill is supposed to close in nine years but,” Esposito underscored, “Brookhaven Town should expedite closing the facility for community health reasons.” Meanwhile, Esposito said ‘Citizens Campaign for the Environment’ has been getting increasing numbers of calls from individuals and businesses that claim they are adversely impacted by the landfill. Felice said the DEC required the town to expedite capping the landfill.
Reached for comment and contrasting Esposito’s assertions about the town landfill, Brookhaven Town Spokesperson Jack Krieger said, “The Town of Brookhaven is confident that the issues at the school are not related to the landfill.” Krieger cited a July 5th News 12 report that the company which conducted environmental testing at the school said volatile compound in excess of EPS standards found in the school is not related to the landfill. Krieger noted that “The town has already capped 170 acres of the landfill and we are in the process of capping seven more acres.” The landfill is scheduled to close in eight years, Krieger noted.
Testing in June 2016 by Enviroscience Consultants reveal traces of benzene (acute exposure may cause headaches, eye and skin irritation and dizziness. June 2017 findings showed the detection of mold and propylene dichloride.
In a letter dated July 25th, 2017 from Suffolk County Department of Health Services Commissioner Dr. James L. Tomarken to New York State Division of Environmental Health Assessment Center for Environmental Health Director Elizabeth L. Lewis Michi, Pd.D., Tomarken, requests the State Department of Health review air monitoring data results and disease occurrence information including updates on uterine and bladder cancer rates in the community, as well as the conclusions and recommendations of the past NYSDOH studies from the community to see if follow up evaluation is warranted.
The Department of Environmental Conservation, (DEC), which regulates the Landfill, currently has two devices installed to provide continuous air monitoring of hydrogen sulfide gas at the school and a nearby park. In his letter, Tomarken states that ”potential health risks related to air and groundwater quality have been a concern of regulatory agencies since the 1980’s when the Town of Brookhaven began connecting homes downgradient of the facility to public water.” Community concerns relating to exposures from the landfill, forced the New York State Department of Health to conduct investigations at the school and throughout the community. Since these studies were conducted, Tomarken said the footprint of the landfill has been enlarged significantly, and the amount of material being accepted into the landfill has increased. In his letter, Tomarken states, “while there have been some improvements in air monitoring and quality, complaints and concerns continue.” Tomarken then told the NYSDOH that “the possibility that the Board of Education is considering whether to close the school lends a new sense of urgency to the situation.”
Meanwhile, as the school community awaits the findings from the most recent round of tests, Superintendent Giani has assured that “The district is committed to ensure all of our buildings and facilities are safe places to learn, play and work.”

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