Suffolk County, N.Y., Turns to Health Data to Determine Whether to Shutter Local School

The county health commissioner urged state officials to review air monitoring data and disease occurrence information.

by Scott Eidler, Newsday / July 28, 2017

(TNS) -- The Suffolk County health commissioner is urging the state Department of Health to review air monitoring data and other studies of Frank P. Long Intermediate School in Bellport amid pressure from parents and teachers to close the school, located about a mile from the Brookhaven Town landfill.

Dr. James L. Tomarken, the county health commissioner, urged state officials in a letter dated Tuesday to review “air monitoring data and disease occurrence information including updates on uterine and bladder cancer rates in the community.”

He also asked the state to review findings and recommendations of past studies from the state Health Department “to see if follow-up evaluation is warranted.”

Grace Kelly-McGovern, spokeswoman for the Suffolk County health department, said Tomarken sent various documents to the state, including correspondence from the district’s consultant to the South Country school district; a community survey; and maps of the school with labels corresponding to symptoms.

Erin Silk, a state Health Department spokeswoman, said the agency had “received the letter from Suffolk County Department of Health Services regarding the results of air-quality monitoring performed by a consultant for the school. We are reviewing the data and, as always, are available to provide guidance and technical assistance to address community concerns.”

Parents, teachers and residents have complained of sickening odors on the intermediate school’s grounds. More than 200 people attended a school board meeting Wednesday night, with many pressing for the school’s closure. Some parents said that come September, they would not enroll their children in the school, which serves about 700 fourth- and fifth-graders.

At the meeting, Glenn Neuschwender, president of Enviroscience Consultants of Ronkonkoma, described preliminary testing results and said that further testing is under way. Those results are expected to be revealed at an Aug. 16 board meeting devoted solely to the environmental review of the school.

School board president Cheryl Felice, at the close of the meeting, said, “We have lost countless nights of sleep over the issue.” In an interview Thursday, she said the consultant “has not expressed any findings that are cause for alarm at this point; however, there are still more tests to come in, and we’re waiting for those results as well.”

She added, “Although some people disagree with the interpretation of our consultant, we have other evidence that we’re still combing through that we’ll be able to present at our meeting on the 16th and finally have everything together to make that educated decision.”

The district is considering a number of options for the fall, ranging from sending students to other buildings in the district; leasing portable outside classrooms; or sending students to a building in the Sachem system.

Neuschwender said Friday that he has been in contact with officials from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

“We are in close and constant contact with them regarding all development related to our investigation,” he said.

Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), in an interview Thursday, said she has concerns about the cause of some of the sickening odors. She said the option of relocating students to a building in the Sachem district is worth considering.

Browning added that “it would be important to get a definitive answer whether it’s the landfill or it’s the school itself” causing environmental harm.

Brookhaven Town officials say the 192-acre landfill is to be 70 percent capped this year and is expected to close in about eight years.

©2017 Newsday Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.