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Gaughran

June 30, 2019- New York City, NY- Governor Andrew Cuomo on World Pride and the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall signs legislation banning Gay and Trans Panic Legal Defense and marches in 2019 World Pride Parade. (Darren McGee- Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

By Donna Deedy

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) has had a banner year. As a freshman senator serving the greater Huntington region, he introduced 68 bills with more than half passing the Senate, according to his office, and 26 percent passing both branches of the state Legislature.

Looking back, Gaughran said in a recent interview the 2019 legislative session, which ended June 20, will be regarded overall as remarkable. He attributes his success rate to the fact that the Senate was comprised of so many freshman senators.

His proudest accomplishment, he said, was passing a bill to provide disability benefits to civilian public employees who responded to Ground Zero after the 9/11 terrorist attack. The bill, called S5898D, offers relief to overlooked workers, such as transit employees and civil engineers who are sick, suffering from severe conditions and are dying from cleanup-related afflictions.

Timothy DeMeo, a first responder for the N.Y. State Department of Environmental Conservation, said he is grateful to Gaughran for getting the legislation passed within four months. 

“This law is long overdue and will help so many of us who need to retire to be able to fully address our health concerns,” he said.

DeMeo arrived at the Twin Towers just as the second plane struck and was injured by falling debris. His vehicle, he said, flipped over and pancaked. He has required multiple surgeries and is scheduled for more. DeMeo worked for the DEC for 20 years and logged more than 1,000 hours over the course of four months removing hazardous waste from Ground Zero. Today, he suffers from respiratory ailments and other conditions.

“I call myself the forgotten responder, because I’m not afforded the same benefits of my respected colleagues,” he said. 

Some of Gaughran’s other legislative achievements include making the 2 percent property tax cap permanent, allowing for early voting in elections and backing the state’s red-flag law, which establishes rules that keep guns out of the hands of people who are mentally ill. 

Gaughran said he opposed bail reform and allowing undocumented immigrants the ability to qualify for a driver’s license, two controversial bills that passed both the Senate and the Assembly and were ultimately signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). 

In the fall, while lawmakers are out of session, Gaughran expects to hold hearings with his constituents. One issue he’d like to see addressed is high property taxes. 

“We may need to open a discussion on consolidation,” he said. Schools, counties and local governments, he said, should work to share more services, which can reduce costs.

With regard to the Long Island Power Authority, Gaughran sponsored several bills. One bill, which proposed financial aid to school districts impacted by LIPA’s tax certiorari cases, stalled in committee. The other bill, S5122A, aimed to prevent LIPA from collecting back taxes through tax lawsuits. The Senate passed the latter LIPA bill unanimously and the Assembly introduced identical legislation, but it remained under legal review in the Assembly and was never put to a vote. Gaughran said that LIPA CEO Tom Falcone and LIPA lobbyists had a strong presence in Albany, after he successfully introduced the LIPA bill. He plans to take the issue up again in next year’s session.

LIPA’s press office did not respond to email requests for comments about its lobbying efforts related to the bills. Record requests filed under New York’s Freedom of Information Law are still pending.

Overall, Gaughran would like to see improvements made to the state’s budget process. Legislators, he said, are bombarded with bills right before the April 1 budget deadline.

“We really have to fix the budget process,” he said. “It’s policy as much as money.”

Photo from Governor’s office

In response to the March 15 terrorist attacks in New Zealand mosques, the Long Island Inclusive Communities Against Hate organized outreach events. Members of the Huntington Jewish Center presented baskets and gifts last week as a gesture of solidarity to members of Masjid Noor mosque and Huntington Muslim Youth Outreach. The groups celebrated Purim together, a Jewish holiday filled with feasting and rejoicing, that commemorates the saving of Jewish people from persecution during the ancient Persian empire.

Huntington resident Wajma Halimi-Modaser expressed gratitude for the gesture in a Facebook post. 

“Appreciation and humbleness do not begin to describe how members of Masjid Noor felt by the kind and selfless sentiments displayed by members of the Huntington Jewish Center,” he said. “They took the opportunity to use this event to come visit and share their traditions. At the same time, show their sympathy. It is so wonderful to have support, love and respect for each other, especially during times of tragedy.”

The Masjid Noor Mosque also held March 22 an interfaith prayer service one week after the New Zealand massacres. Representatives from local school districts attended the service including Harborfields Central School District, Elwood Union Free School District and South Huntington Union Free School District.  

“We gathered regardless of our faith, color, race, social background or age to send one specific message,” Laraki Zakia said in a Facebook post. “We were sending a message of love, forgiveness and hope, as well as vigilance and alertness, ready to look after one another and having each other’s back as one strong and loving community.”

The group also held and interfaith vigil March 22 with local clergy and Sen. Gaughran at the Masjid Noor mosque in Huntington. 

Danielle DeSimone

By Donna Deedy

When Samantha Marill stepped up to the microphone at a town hall meeting March 16 in the Northport High School auditorium, the crowd of more than 500 local residents fell silent as she spoke.

“Four of my classmates have been diagnosed with leukemia,” she said. “I attended this high school and I’d like to know if emissions from the Northport power plant are a factor.”

Marill said that she and her classmates graduated Northport High School in 2016.

“This is an alarmingly high number,” she said.  “Most schools do not even have one student diagnosed.”

The situation Marill describes is statistically abnormal. Leukemia, a cancer of the blood cells, strikes mostly older adults. Suffolk County, overall, does have a higher leukemia incidence rate for 2011-15 than state averages, according to New York State Department of Health spokesperson Jill Montag. But more than half of the people diagnosed with the disease are in excess of 65 years old. 

“None of my classmates should be fighting for their lives so soon after graduating.”

— Samantha Marill

The statewide annual average for leukemia diagnoses for ages 20 to 24 totals 18, as reported in New York’s most recent cancer registry, which excludes New York City.

It would be expected that two people between the ages of 20 and 24 would be diagnosed with leukemia, according to the state’s statistics, in a population of 100,000. In the Northport-East Northport School district, where an estimated 36,000 people live, one case would be rare. 

“None of my classmates should be fighting for their lives so soon after graduating,” Marill said. A fifth high school friend, she said, was diagnosed with sarcoma, another rare type of cancer that affects connective tissues.

It’s difficult to know whether or not a specific environmental toxin will cause a particular individual to develop cancer, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2003 report titled “Cancer and the Environment.” 

But Marill was one of two people to raise health concerns about the Northport power plant at that meeting. Christine Ballow said that she drives past the plant’s stacks daily, coming and going from her home on Eaton’s Neck. Her two neighbors, she said, suffer from another rare blood disease called Wegener’s granulomatosis. The disease effects the lungs, throat, sinuses, kidneys and blood vessels. The Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit academic health center, reports on its website that the disease is not contagious or hereditary. Its causes are unknown.

The Times of Huntington has dug into some of the issues and contacted state officials to learn how the public’s health concerns, past and present, are addressed. 

Here’s what we found:

• New York State Department of Health and the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services investigated complaints about the Northport power plant in 2009. 

  The 2009 report’s conclusion: “It is unlikely that people who live and utilize facilities around the Northport power plant will come in contact with chemicals originating at the Northport power plant site while touching soil or breathing dust at the [soccer fields], or by drinking groundwater that is outside of the Northport power plant property, and that in these ways operations at the Northport power plant are not expected to harm people’s health.”

• The only public health action recommended in 2009 was that the grass surface on the plant’s public soccer fields be maintained to ensure that the potential for exposure to arsenic and cadmium are minimized.

• That same report stated that contamination concerns date back to the late 1970s, saying: “There have also been many complaints about oil and soot emissions from the plant’s four smokestacks; some exceedances of air guidelines may have occurred, although no data on air emissions was reviewed that could confirm this.”

• Leukemia risk factors, which are listed on the state health department website, include exposures to ionizing radiation, smoking, rare viruses and blood disorders. Long-term exposure to benzene and ethylene oxide, typically in the workplace, are also a known cause of the disease.

• Suffolk County Water Authority reports by email that it tests its wells for benzene, but has never in 25 years identified the chemical’s presence in county waters.

• The Northport power plant is considered a Major Oil Storage Facility, an official term.  The 2009 report confirmed that the facility’s groundwater is subject to regular monitoring and reports that no significant petroleum products and material have contaminated the area. The water authority has confirmed by email that it has no record of significant contamination since 2009.

To address residents’ cancer concerns, New York State created in 1981 the Cancer Surveillance Program. It currently indicates no cancer cluster for leukemia near the Northport power plant, according to Montag. The program data, she said, shows one case of leukemia diagnosed between 2011-15 in the area that contains the plant.

“While the community has not requested an investigation for this area, interested community members are welcome to contact the Department of Health at 518-473-7817 or canmap@health.state.ny.us to discuss their concerns and provide detailed information,” she said.

The American Lung Association doesn’t track cancer or Wegener’s disease, but it does monitor air quality. It reports Suffolk County is repeatedly one of the most polluted counties in the state, and is assigned an “F” rating for its ozone emissions.

“Basically, the plant is required to meet modified emission standards from those applied to plants that are newly built,” said Jennifer Solomon, media person with the American Lung Association. “The power plant can emit thousands of tons of nitrogen oxides, a pollutant that is an essential contributor to ozone smog. Ozone is a powerful respiratory irritant and causes breathing problems for children, seniors and for those with chronic lung diseases, sometimes sending people to their doctors or even the emergency room.”

Graph from New York State DEC.

LIPA’s tax lawsuit against the Town of Huntington has pushed the community to a tipping point. 

LIPA spokesperson Sid Nathan directed questions about Northport power plant health concerns to National Grid, which owns the Northport power plant.

National Grid has not responded to phone and email requests for comment.   

“In response to constituents very serious concerns raised during my town hall meeting on LIPA, I am requesting that the state immediately look into these community health concerns,” Gaughran said. “I am requesting a meeting with the relevant state agencies to ensure that the health of our residents is of the utmost concern.”

As for Marill, a junior at SUNY Potsdam, she’s declared a major in environmental science. She wants to study environmental law.

“It’s wild to think that we could shut the plant down but, ideally, I would like to see it closed,” Marill said.  “We need clean sources of energy.”

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