Northport to Relocate Middle School Students After Benzene Find

 Students at Northport Middle School will be relocated starting Thursday, Superintendent Robert Banzer announced Saturday afternoon, after testing of the site found elevated levels of benzene in the septic systems.

The school will not reopen to classes this coming week and remain closed for the reminder of the school year.

 The school is closed Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday; it will remained closed Tuesday and Wednesday as the district works out the relocation of students from the school, which has been the subject of complaints about sicknesses parents attribute to unhealthy conditions. The illnesses include nosebleeds, headaches, coughs and more serious illnesses, such as cancer.

Parents have demanded action for decades about the school and the firm PW Grosser Consulting is conducting environmental tests. Preliminary findings about high levels of mercury at a leaching pool on the grounds that were revealed at a school board meeting last week had enraged parents, some of whom wanted the students moved until testing was complete, while others wanted the school closed permanently.

Banzer wrote Saturday, “As you are aware, PWGC is continuing its comprehensive investigation of environmental conditions at the school. This includes extensive testing of soil, vapor, indoor air quality, a geophysical survey and testing of our school’s sanitary system and storm water. Last evening, PWGC informed the district that soil samples from two different septic systems on the southern and eastern sides of Northport Middle School contained elevated levels of benzene that will require further remediation per the Suffolk County Department of Health Services.”

Tammie Topel, a former school board member and vociferous critic of the board and administration for not closing the school, said, “I’m thankful that the students and staff will no longer be exposed to carcinogenic and toxic chemicals. I’m devastated to have it confirmed that for the last 2 and a 1/2 years, they have all been exposed unnecessarily. That has me in tears.”

Town Councilwoman Joan Cergol said, “I support the move to relocate students attending Northport Middle School and applaud the decision. When I reached out to Superintendent Banzer in late fall to discuss concerns brought to me by constituents, we discussed that possibility. Given the ongoing concerns and outstanding questions I believe it’s in the best interests of all. ”

Town Councilman Gene Cook, who has advocated for a town role in helping the district with the issue, said, ““I want to take the time to thank Superintendent Banzer and the Northport-East Northport School Board for making the right decision to move the students and staff from Northport Middle School for the remainder the school year. This decision to protect the health and welfare of the individuals in this building has been a priority for the community. As I have offered in the past, I stand with all the residents of Huntington and I offer any assistance to the families, staff and administration of Northport-East Northport School District, during this challenging transition. I will continue to support the school district as they undergo this environmental investigation. Please feel free to contact me directly if I can be of any further assistance.”

 
Banzer’s letter:

Dear Northport Middle School Community:
I am writing today to inform you that in consultation with the Board of Education, I have decided to relocate students from Northport Middle School, effective Thursday, January 23, 2020. This relocation will remain in place through the balance of the current school year.
In order to prepare for the transition, there will be no school for Northport Middle School students on Tuesday, January 21 and Wednesday, January 22. The relocation plan will be finalized and communicated to families before Thursday, January 23.
As you are aware, PWGC is continuing its comprehensive investigation of environmental conditions at the school. This includes extensive testing of soil, vapor, indoor air quality, a geophysical survey and testing of our school’s sanitary system and storm water. Last evening, PWGC informed the district that soil samples from two different septic systems on the southern and eastern sides of Northport Middle School contained elevated levels of benzene that will require further remediation per the Suffolk County Department of Health Services.
It is important to note that preliminary air testing indicated no observable detection of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) – which includes benzene – inside the building, or from the soil samples, as well as at the source of the septic tanks. However, in the best interest of our students and staff and in consideration of ongoing testing and remediation, the building will be closed for the balance of the school year.
PWGC will continue their investigation into the environmental conditions at NMS, and of course, we will share with our community any update that is shared with us.
At a Special Board Meeting Workshop this past Wednesday, I outlined a number of options detailing contingency plans if it was necessary to move our students and staff. Prior to that meeting I consulted with the PTSA Presidents’ Council, NMS faculty, and union leadership, including the teachers. The resulting relocation plan is as follows:
Northport Middle School 8th Graders will be relocated to the High School. Most of the courses will take place in one wing of the building. However, when it is necessary for students to attend classes such as science, art & technology in another part of the building they will be escorted by staff.
Northport Middle School 7th Graders will be relocated to East Northport Middle School.
Northport Middle School 6th Graders will be relocated to two elementary schools with their academic teams. Six Gold & Six White will attend Norwood Avenue Elementary and Six Blue will attend Bellerose Avenue Elementary School.
Although a great deal of the plan is in place, we will need Tuesday and Wednesday of next week to refine the logistics for staff and students, including scheduling, transportation and food service. We will keep you updated as we work through this process.
We realize that this is a substantial undertaking. However, the Board of Education and I firmly believe it is in the best interest of our students and staff to relocate. It is our goal to minimize the disruption to our students and staff to the extent possible. We will have staff available to all students to help them through this challenging situation.

 

Attorney Michael Marcantonio, a candidate for the 12th Assembly District, said, “Immediately upon taking up this issue, I discovered that the biggest obstacle to protecting our children was not the school administration or the board of education; it was New York State Law, which has zero regulations governing the presence of deadly toxins in schools like benzene.

“With no regulations governing this issue, we got almost no help from the NYDOH or the DEC, who told us there was nothing they could do. With no enforceable environmental standards regulating VOCs in schools, we were forced to appeal to unenforceable “guidelines” or far higher industrial worker standards that were inapplicable to protecting children.

“We must pass laws regulating VOCs in schools and mandate annual testing of VOCs in schools to prevent what has happened here from ever happening again.”

Story was updated at 8:20 p.m.

Michael Marcantonio
 
 

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