Authors Posts by Donna Deedy

Donna Deedy

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Northport power plant. File photo

When the Town of Huntington’s planning board originally authorized in 1965 a site plan for the Northport power plant’s first generating unit on the shores of the Long Island Sound, the impact on the greater safety, health and general welfare of the community was an overarching concern. In fact, the town’s approval stipulated that plant operators were required to submit emissions reports to the town, which were subject to regular review by town officials. 

Today, the plant has expanded to four units, and while the town is still searching for records, officials do not know the last time the plant submitted an emission report from on-site monitors for a review. Town attorney Nick Ciappetta said the town is reviewing whether or not it has monitoring authority. The EPA and DEC, he said, have jurisdiction over plant emissions. 

Some lawmakers firmly disagree, and State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) is calling for action. 

“The town has had more power than it’s realized,” he said. “It should take whatever action it needs to take.”  

Gaughran said he regularly drives past the plant and smells foul odors. Last year, he requested a state health investigation after learning that graduates of Northport High School Class of 2016 were diagnosed with leukemia and lymphoma, after community members said they want to know if the plant’s emissions are a factor. 

State health department investigators have now expanded their study to look at cancer rates in a broader population to look for patterns. (See story on Page A3) With that investigation underway, Gaughran finds it prudent to take steps to better protect the community. 

Town Council member Joan Cergol agrees. 

“If the Town, in its rezone of the property, or any of its agencies or boards in the 1960s imposed conditions on LILCO to protect the health and safety of Huntington residents, then it stands to reason that its successors should be bound by the same,” she said.

It is unclear what action if in any will be taken, but some are saying additional precautions would be prudent. 

Danielle DeSimone is one several young adults diagnosed with leukemia from the Northport High School Class of 2016, who received a bone marrow transplant and is now in remission. She said she would absolutely support any policies that would better protect the public’s health. 

“May no more families be faced with this burden unnecessarily,” she said in an email. 

As the state’s health investigation continues, and as the town bears the additional burden of fighting LIPA and National Grid, spending $4.2 million to date, many people are looking at the plant with a discerning eye. 

According to the DEC, the Northport Power Plant emissions are in severe violation of state and federal the air pollution standards for nitrous oxide and VOCs, which contribute to ozone. When inhaled, ozone chemicals react chemically with many biological molecules in the respiratory tract, the EPA reports, leading to adverse health effects.

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

But significant sources of VOCs are chemical plants, gasoline pumps, oil-based paints, autobody shops, and print shops. Nitrogen oxides result primarily from high temperature combustion. Significant sources are power plants, industrial furnaces and boilers, and motor vehicles, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation Permit Review Report from February 2019.

In response to inquiries,  National Grid spokesperson Wendy Ladd said, “we submit our emissions report to the EPA and NY DEC.”

The DEC states that ozone is a regional air pollutant and most human and economic activity in the NYC metro area contribute in some way to ozone exceedences. 

“If the DEC finds any facility poses an imminent threat to public health or the environment, the agency works to address the situation immediately,” said DEC spokesman Kevin Frazier.  

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that the Town Attorney Nicholas Ciappetta said that the town had no authority over emissions monitoring.  The town is actually still reviewing the matter. (updated 1/29/2020)

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Ellen Brady

Ellen Brady, a long-time member of the Suffolk County Republican Committee and wife of Smithtown Republican Party Vice-Chairman Bernard “Bernie” Brady, died Jan. 15 at the age of 78.

She was the loving mother of Michael (Terri) Brady, Denise (Joseph) Riccio and Patrick (Tara) Brady; the cherished grandmother of Michael, Patrick, Jack, Molly, Liam and Erin; and the adored sister of Muriel (Carl) Scarantino and the late Gerard McLeer.

Visitation was held at Branch Funeral Home in Smithtown on Sunday, Jan. 19 from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. and from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. Funeral mass will be celebrated Monday, Jan. 20 at 10:00 a.m. at Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church, 95 Old Nichols Road in Nesconset. Burial to follow at St. Patrick’s Cemetery Mount Pleasant Road in Smithtown.

Northport Middle School closed after contamination concerns. File photo

Northport-East Northport Union Free School District Superintendent Rob Banzer has decided, effective immediately, to close Northport Middle School for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year after P.W. Grosser Consulting, the environmental firm who has been testing soil around the school property, found on Saturday elevated levels of benzene in two separate septic systems on site.

Classes for the Northport Middle School students were cancelled for Tuesday, Jan. 21 and Wed. Jan. 22, and will resume on Jan. 23 in new locations.

“It is important to note that preliminary air testing indicated no observable detection of volatile organic compounds or VOCs, which includes benzene, inside the building, or from soil samples, as well as at the source of the septic tanks,” Banzer said in an email notice to parents sent at 4:00 p.m. Saturday afternoon. “However, in the best interest of students and staff and in consideration of ongoing testing and remediation, the building will be closed for the balance of the school year.”

During an unscheduled workshop with board members Wednesday,  Jan. 15, Banzer presented and reviewed a decisive contingency relocation plan for Northport Middle School students that ultimately became necessary to implement just days later.

The plan, developed with goals identified by all stakeholders, maintains the school’s curriculum, allows for spring sports, and enables students to access science labs. It was considered the best, least disruptive option.

As discussed during the workshop, transportation is feasible, but may require that some students change buses at the William J. Brosnan School building on Laurel Avenue. Additional drivers and buses might alleviate the need for transferring, Banzer said, but could be tough to secure.

“Although a great deal of the plan is already in place, we will need Tuesday and Wednesday to refine the logistics for staff and students, including scheduling, transportation and food service,” Banzer stated in his note to parents.

As explained to parents and reviewed in the Jan. 15 workshop:

  • Northport Middle School 8th graders will relocate to a special wing of the high school.
  • Northport Middle School 7th graders will relocate to East Northport Middle School.

Originally, Northport Middle School 6th graders were expected to be relocated to either Norwood Avenue or Bellerose Elementary schools. But, as explained in a letter sent to parents Jan. 20, the district opted to keep all of the 6th graders together at Norwood Avenue school. The gifted and talented program will instead be relocated to Bellerose

Suffolk County Department of Health Services requires that the site be remediated to remove the benzene. The health department also requires remediation for high levels of mercury and silver found in the leaching pools outside of the schools G-wing. Remediation plans are still under development.

Many parents have been conflicted about sending their children to the school. Students and staff have complained about unidentified foul odors that regularly surface inside the building. Some parents, retired teachers and community members blame chemicals previously identified on school grounds as a potential cause for their illnesses. As the environmental investigation continues, some parents are breathing a sign of relief.

“We are happy to know that the testing can be completed with the children and staff relocated to safe locations,” said Bethany Watts.

N.Y. State Sen. Jim Gaughran in Albany with his daughter for the 2020 legislative session.

NY State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) is heading to Albany for the 2020 legislative session, and after a productive first year in office, he said he’s determined to again tackle a long list of issues. With Andrew Raia stepping down as assemblyman as of Jan. 1 to fill the role of Huntington town clerk, Gaughran will be the area’s only representative in the state house unless a special election is held. 

With a state budget of $179 billion and budget deficit of $6 billion, ethical reform and corruption, he said, are at the top of his to do list. 

The Times of Huntington sat down with Gaughran Jan. 12 to get an overview of his agenda. 

In the new year, citizens can look forward to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) energy initiative. He’s formulating an environmental bond for voter approval in November designed to address climate change. Gaughran doesn’t know how it will work. Details will be unveiled with the governor’s pending budget, he said. 

He plans to support sewage treatment plants and is behind plans to address clean water initiatives for the Long Island Sound and the groundwater, which is the sole source of Long Island’s drinking supply. 

On the topic of taxes, Gaughran said that he’s opposed to raising taxes on the middle class and notes that half of all state revenue comes from the wealthiest 3 percent of residents. Those taxpayers, however, are declaring legal residencies in other states to escape New York’s tax burden. According to President Donald Trump (R), that’s why he declared Florida as his legal residence. That situation is compounding the state’s budget woes. 

Lost Medicaid revenue is also a fiscal concern. Of the $6 billion deficit, $4 billion is lost federal funding to cover Medicaid costs. 

“People are living longer,” Gaughran said. “More advanced technology translates into higher health care costs.”

Overall, Gaughran suggests that citizens pay attention, as many already do, and to demand transparency in government. Toward that effort, he said he will continue to host town hall meetings with constituents. He expects to schedule an upcoming town hall on Long Island Rail Road issues. 

To address ethics issues, Gaughran is supporting a law that limits lawmakers’ outside income to 15 percent of their annual $110,000 salary.

Gaughran is also pushing for election reforms. Last year’s early voting initiative was an initial success. But he said communities need more polling places. One polling place in each town is too few. He’d like to see one voting place for every 50,000 citizens. He said he’s opposed to schools being used for early voting. 

Bail reform is another troublesome issue for Gaughran. If he had not voted for last year’s budget, which included the bail reform legislation, it would have cut state aid to schools. So, this year he’d like to restore judicial reviews for 64 crimes and set bail as needed. Bail should not be waived for hate crimes, he said. He said other senators are supporting his initiative and he continues to get calls about it. 

He also wants to help drug addicts with arrests find treatment and is alarmed that Long Island real estate agents discriminate, as reported in a recent Newsday expose. He is supporting legislation that suspends or revokes a broker’s license when they are found to discriminate against minorities. 

Gaughran has been a proponent of better laws that crack down on unsafe driving for limousines. U-turns, blamed for a deadly crash in Cutchogue in 2015, will soon be illegal. That crash resulted in the death of four young women from Kings Park, Commack and Smithtown. On Tuesday, Jan. 14, Gaughran introduced nine bills to address the problems. 

“I so admire these families that have channeled their grief into something positive,” Gaughran said.  

With regards to the Long Island Power Authority, he’s waiting on the courts to see how the case unfolds and is following the Town of Huntington to see what it will do. He plans to reintroduce legislation this session to prevent LIPA from collecting back taxes through tax certiorari suits. LIPA’s aggressive lobbying in the assembly derailed the initiative last year, after his senate bill passed with overwhelming support. The costs behind LIPA’s lobbying and public relations campaigns need to be reined in, he said, and need more oversight. 

“Citizens have no consumer protection with LIPA,” Gaughran explained. 

His plan is to authorize regulatory oversight of LIPA to the New York Public Service Commission and require annual audits. Currently, if fraud or misrepresentation is found, he said the state can’t take action. He’d also like to better understand the relationship between LIPA and PSEG. 

Mindy Grabina of Smithtown, who lost her daughter in a 2015 limo accident, speaks in Albany after new limo safety bills pass.

Senator Jim Gaughran (D-Northport), together with the Senate Majority Conference, passed legislation Jan. 14 that will help better protect New Yorkers from limousine crashes. The bills were created together with Assembly Democratic majority colleagues based on testimony from families of victims involved in tragic crashes. This package of limo regulations will better protect passengers, ensure higher standards for professional drivers, improve passenger communication options and increase penalties for bad actors who put public lives at risk.

“Today we are taking action on important limo safety legislation that will protect passengers and drivers alike. These bills, including mandatory seat belts and cracking down on illegal U-turns, are critical safety measures that will prevent tragic crashes like the one just a few years ago in Cutchogue, from happening again. I thank the brave and tireless advocacy of the families of the Cutchogue and Schoarie crashes for being the driving force behind today’s bills and fighting for safety.”

The additional limo regulation reforms passed by the Senate Democratic Majority includes:

▪Customer Service Resources: This bill, S.6185B, sponsored by Sen. Rachel May (D-Syracuse), requires maintenance of a hotline and website for New Yorkers to report safety issues with stretch limos, and requires the information to be conspicuously posted in vehicles for passengers. 

▪Drug and Alcohol Testing: This bill, S.6186B, sponsored by Sen. Jen Metzger (D-Rosendale), requires pre-employment and random drug and alcohol testing in large for-hire vehicles.

▪Commercial GPS Requirements: This bill, S.6187C, sponsored by Gaughran, requires stretch limousines to use commercial GPS devices to assist them in using roads that are best suited for their vehicles.

▪Increased Penalties for Illegal U-Turns: This bill, S.6188B, sponsored by Gaughran, expands the U-turn ban to stretch limousines capable of carrying nine or more passengers including the driver, and increases the financial and criminal penalties for drivers making illegal U-turns.

▪Creation of Passenger Task Force: This bill, S.6189C, sponsored by Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck), creates a passenger safety task force to study and make recommendations on additional safety measures for stretch limousines such as anti-intrusion bars, rollover protection, emergency exits and improved coordination between the DOT and DMV.

▪Seatbelt Requirements: This bill, S.6191C, sponsored by Sen. Tim Kennedy (D-Buffalo), requires stretch limousines to be equipped with seat belts for every passenger for which the vehicle is rated. This includes a requirement for stretch limousines to be retrofitted with seat belts no later than Jan. 1, 2023, and for any stretch limousine modified on or after Jan. 1, 2021 to be equipped with seat belts.

▪Commercial Driving License Requirement: This bill, S.6192A, sponsored by Kennedy, requires limousine drivers operating vehicles capable of transporting nine or more passengers to have a passenger-endorsed commercial driver’s license. 

▪Immobilization of Defective Limos: This bill, S.6193C, sponsored by Kennedy, authorizes DOT to immobilize or impound a stretch limo with an out-of-service defect.

▪Website Requirements: This bill, S.6604B, sponsored by Sen. James Sanders Jr. (D-Jamaica), requires DMV to update its website regarding motor carrier safety information, and requires annual verifications on stretch limousine driver files with respect to disqualifying offenses, out of service defects and crashes. 

▪Seatbelt Requirements: This bill, S.7134, sponsored by Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-New York City), expands seatbelt use requirements in for-hire vehicles.

Compiled by Donna Deedy

Parents listen as consultants from an environmental testing firm explain their findings to date and their future testing plans at a school board meeting on Jan. 9. Photo by Donna Deedy

In the early morning hours of Jan. 10, at 12:35 a.m., after an exhaustive five hours of presentations and comments from board members and the public, much of it heated and emotional, the Northport-East Northport school board members revealed that they are in fact considering closing the Northport Middle School, not necessarily immediately, but in September 2020.

Declining enrollment and the Long Island Power Authority tax certiorari case, they said, are driving the decision. The site’s ongoing contamination concerns, they added, are an underlying factor. The decision, they noted, is still exploratory. 

A weary crowd welcomed the comment but still wondered what plan, if any, the district has in place, if the environmental consulting firm it hired, P.W. Grosser Consulting also known as PWGC, continues to find toxins on-site.

Superintendent Robert Banzer explained to the community that while the school has options, none of the choices are ideal. Split sessions, consolidation and relocating students to other districts that have offered space were mentioned as potential temporary solutions to a “code red” situation.

Board member Larry Licopoli asked the superintendent to outline a plan to present at the next board meeting. 

So far, PWGC has found unsafe levels of arsenic on a sports field and extraordinarily high levels of mercury and silver in a leaching pool 10 feet underground and just outside science classrooms in the G-wing. Mercury levels of 632 ppm were detected there. The county requires action at 3.7 ppm. 

The consultants said, when asked by parents, that they did notice an unusual odor in the building. So far, though, none of their air quality tests detected a presence of contaminants in the building that would warrant its closure. 

An Abundance of Caution

The overarching public debate of the Jan. 9 board meeting centered on the seemingly relative nature of risk assessment. 

After finding the toxic chemicals on-site, the district determined that it would close three classrooms, G-51, G-52 and G-53. Those three classrooms, the environmental consultants explained, were science rooms with sinks that drain into the leaching pool, where the chemicals were found. Odorless fumes could potentially migrate through the piping into classrooms, but the drain systems rely on P traps that prevent that from occurring, they said. While the results of air quality tests were completed, the district closed those classrooms out of “an abundance of caution.” Air quality results in the G-wing classrooms were later found to be normal. But many families said the cautionary closure didn’t go far enough. 

The consulting firm explained that building evacuation would be justified only after pathways of exposure were identified when unsafe levels of a toxin are found on-site. Since no mercury levels were detected in the hallways, closing other portions of the school were unwarranted. 

 The consultants explained that toxic vapors could potentially rise from contaminated ground under a concrete foundation beneath classrooms. So far, the consultants said, they have not found any unsafe measurements in the school building to suggest that vapor migration is an issue. Testing is ongoing. The consultants could not say how far or wide the high concentrations of mercury would be found. The G, L, K and H wings could potentially be impacted, the consultants said. If it’s under the building, demolition may be called for, they said. 

Some parents were outraged. The strategy lacked sufficient level of precaution for their comfort. As the investigation continues, they said students should be removed, since unsafe exposure levels might later be found. Some kids feared going to school while others resented their parents for not sending them. Many people said they could not sleep at night. The social and emotional effects of the situation weighed heavily on most people who spoke, including some board members and residents who recently bought homes in the community. 

No current teachers addressed the board, but a retired teacher did.

John Kobel describes his experience with contamination during Jan. 9 school board meeting.

“That’s the classroom that poisoned me,” said former science teacher John Kobel, who addressed the consultants during the meeting. “That’s the classroom I was carried out of and taken by ambulance to Huntington Hospital.”

Kobel said that he was diagnosed with heavy metal poisoning from mercury and lead and suffers from occupationally induced asthma. He said he witnessed the removal of contaminated soil 20 years ago, when contaminants were found in the same location. Kobel said that he has identified 48 teachers who are sick and 34 diagnosed with some form of cancer, 20 of them have died. 

Parent groups have identified 18 students diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma and other rare blood diseases over the last 10 years. 

Parents asked the consultants if their investigation included reviewing the data of sick kids. They said “no” but would consider it going forward. 

“This is not my community, but I will fight if I feel there is a problem,” said Heather Moran-Botta, a representative from PWGC.

Consultants could not say where the contamination was coming from but speculated that it could be from improperly disposed thermometers. A remediation plan is being developed they said. Ongoing testing would dictate the scope of the plan. 

Several parents said that they were not sending their students to school under the circumstances. Board officials, when pressed, advised families that keep their kids home from school to call the absence “parent sanctioned.” They advised anyone with contamination concerns to discuss having their child’s urine and blood tested with their pediatrician.  

Out of the three potential exposure pathways — ingestion, inhalation and dermal contact — the most likely scenario that could impact students and staff at the school was inhalation, according to the consultants.  

On Saturday, Jan. 11, PWGC continued testing. Results have not yet been reported. 

On Monday, Jan. 14, parents held another sickout. The district did not respond to requests for information about absenteeism in the school, since mercury, silver and arsenic was detected Jan. 6.

Suffolk County Health Department said that school boards have jurisdiction over the issue, but noted that their toxicologists are answering questions from families in the community at the request of the state health department. The New York State Department of Health said that school boards ultimately have jurisdiction over air quality concerns. 

N.Y. State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport)has requested the involvement of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to help with the investigation.  

Sen. Chuck Schumer with Jerry Chiano's family surround a photo at the Long Island Veteran's home in Stony Brook Dec. 20.

Before Vietnam vet Jerry Chiano of Valley Stream died in 2017 after battling a rare form of bile duct cancer, he fought to raise awareness by urging Vietnam vets to get tested for liver fluke exposure. The tiny worm, found in Southeast Asia, can be transmitted to humans after they eat raw or uncooked fish. The parasite lives in the biliary system and is the known cause of bile duct cancer. 

“It’s such a crazy disease,” said Chiano’s daughter, Jennifer Paglino. “My father wanted other people to know about it, so they’d get the treatment and benefits they deserve.” 

Chiano’s awareness campaign garnered the support of researchers at the Northport VA Medical Center, who concluded that same year in a pilot study that one in four local Vietnam vets who ate raw or uncooked fish while deployed were exposed to the parasite. 

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sounded alarms in late December, stating the study remains largely unused. He’s urging the VA to look seriously at the issue and Northport VA’s work, noting that benefit claims for the disease have increased sixfold since 2003, while 80 percent of the claims submitted in 2015 have been denied.

The VA is conducting the Vietnam Era Veterans Mortality Study, a national effort that will look at data from everyone who served in the military during the Vietnam era, from Feb. 28, 1961 through May 7, 1975, and compare mortality rates for all ailments, including bile duct cancer. Results for that study are pending. 

The agency did not say if that study would dictate whether or not bile duct cancer is considered a service-related disease. 

Representative Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1) said he hopes the VA’s new large-scale research mission “will pave the way for infected veterans to receive the treatment they have earned.”

Schumer is demanding that the Northport research be used. 

He noted that the situation raises questions about the VA process for acknowledging service-related illnesses and how its researchers use the statistically based science of epidemiology, which links exposure to disease. 

The VA website clearly states that liver fluke exposure can cause bile duct cancer. Yet, a VA spokesperson said in an email that the Northport research is flawed, while discounting the risks. 

“The VA is not aware of any studies that show that bile duct cancer occurs more often in U.S. Vietnam veterans than in any other group of people,” he stated. 

Schumer pointed out how the VA initially found in 2009 limited evidence to suggest that exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides during the Vietnam War caused Parkinson’s disease. Months later, it reversed its decision and added the disease to the list of covered conditions connected to exposure to herbicide agents. 

Schumer and the entire Long Island congressional delegation — Zeldin, Tom Suozzi (D-NY-3), Peter King (R-NY-2) and Kathleen Rice (D-NY-4) — have urged the VA to study the issue. 

“Local vets, some of whom are already sick, need reassurance that these studies lead to answers on service-related health claims, while others have passed away while fighting for awareness and VA testing,” Schumer stated. 

As the VA embarks on another large-scale research mission on toxins and environmental exposure, Schumer underscores the importance of using the Northport data. 

“We have samples, antigen markers and more; there’s good stuff here from this smaller study, but it is largely sitting on a shelf, as we are here today to say: use what’s useful,” he said. 

However, the VA bluntly states: “No future VA studies will utilize data from the Northport VA Medical Center’s pilot Liver Fluke study …” 

In an email, the VA spokesperson explained that the Northport VA liver fluke study relied on a test used in Asia, where the disease is prevalent, which is not FDA approved. It also noted, among other things, that the Northport VA study lacked control groups. Plus, he said, none of the patients who tested positive for liver fluke exposure actually suffer from bile duct cancer. 

Gerald Wiggins a Vietnam vet from Port Jefferson Station took part in the Northport VA liver fluke study and was one of 12 veterans found to have been exposed to the parasite. He does not have bile duct cancer, but he said he had two bile duct cysts removed in September 2017 at Sloan Kettering. 

The disease, he said, is a ticking time bomb. He can’t understand why the government isn’t supporting veterans. At 71 years old, he said it’s late for him. But he believes every veteran who served in Southeast Asia and areas prone to the parasite should be tested. 

“Ten people came down with Zika virus in Florida and within two weeks the federal government gave $600 million to fight it,” he said. “As a vet, I laid my life on the line and got nothing.” 

He submitted a VA claim, which he said was denied. His other insurance picked up the tab.

George Psvedos, an infectious disease specialist and a Northport VA physician, conducted the study. The Northport VA was unsuccessful in gaining clearance for an interview from the VA. But, as noted in his research conclusion statement, his study was the first to show evidence of exposure to liver fluke in U.S. soldiers deployed in Vietnam. He called for more research to examine the link between a Vietnam exposure and the likelihood of veterans developing bile duct cancer.  

Currently, no validated test for liver fluke infection is available for clinical use in the United States, according to the VA website. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is not recommending serological testing for exposure, the VA said. 

The Northport VA said that if veterans express concerns or symptoms of bile duct cancer, the VA screens them right away. 

Meanwhile, the prognosis for bile duct cancer is poor, with a 30 percent five-year survival rate, according to the American Cancer Society.

Jerry Chiano stands in front of an American flag dangling his dog tags.

As for Chiano, he ultimately died of an esophageal bleed, his daughter said, caused by throat cancer induced by exposure to Agent Orange.

“He thought he was going to die of bile duct cancer,” said Paglino. “We thought [his dying of Agent Orange exposure] was his way of making sure that my mother received VA benefits after he died.”

Survival benefits for veteran’s families are extended when a veteran’s disease is considered service related. Veterans enrolled in VA health care are eligible for VA-provided cancer care, the agency said. 

“VA encourages all veterans who feel their military service has affected their health to submit a claim, which will be adjudicated using the latest scientific and medical evidence available,” said VA spokesperson Susan Carter.

Suozzi is also still following the issue.

“At minimum, we owe Vietnam veterans answers on whether they were exposed to cancer-causing parasites while serving, and the Northport VA’s study nearly two years ago was an important step in confirming that,” he said. “This data could prove instrumental in ensuring affected veterans are taken care of nationwide. I strongly urge the Veterans Administration to include this important study in their future research or, at least explain in detail why they will not.” 

Photos from Jennifer Paglino

Kevin McEvoy's free art history lectures draw a crowd.

On the evening of Jan. 8, the Town of Smithtown held its first public hearing about the subdivision and development for the Flowerfield/Gyrodyne property on Route 25A in St. James. The plan, however, has already had a notable impact on the community.  

Prior to Wednesday night’s meeting, members of a vibrant local art community with studio space at Gyrodyne disbanded, leaving some artists searching for a new home.  

Kevin McEvoy, president and art director for The Atelier at Flowerfield, resigned Jan. 2. The studio’s operations director, youth program coordinator, two administrators and four teachers also resigned, he said, walking out along with more than 93 students. McEvoy is seeking new space in other towns. He was unable to respond to request for comments for legal reasons but did not deny that the subdivision and development situation was a factor. 

The Atelier trustee Barbara Beltrami, one of six trustees, said Monday’s classes were canceled, but the studio is still open for business. She expects operations to resume under a new director, when they find one.   

“Some classes are still functioning,” she said. “People should check with The Atelier for further information by calling 631-250-9009.” 

The Atelier website lacked information about the resignations. Its class schedule still lists McEvoy as instructor for 10 out of 21 classes in the winter schedule. Sources said that all but two teachers are gone.

Kevin McEvoy paints a portrait. The classically trained artist resigned Jan. 2 as president and art director of the Flowerfield Atelier.

 Paul Lamb serves as chairman for The Atelier at Flowerfield. He also has been Gyrodyne’s chairman of the board since 1999. Lamb, a lawyer with an office in Melville, was traveling and did not respond to messages left with requests for comment about the subdivision plans impact on the art community.  

Gary Fitlin, Gyrodyne’s CEO, president, CFO and treasurer, said in a phone interview the company is laying low until after the public hearings. He explained that the existing facilities will remain intact, when and if the project is ultimately approved by the town. Gyrodyne tenants, he said, will not be impacted by the subdivision development. The proposed 150-room hotel, two assisted living centers, two separate medical office parks and a new sewage treatment system, he said, will be located on the site’s undeveloped land.

“It is all very positive for our tenants,” he said. “The subdivision doesn’t impact them, its beneficial to our current tenants because it increases their opportunities.”

Sama Millwork, a fine quality handmade cabinet maker has been located at Gyrodyne for 28 years. John Sama said that he doesn’t expect any impact from the subdivision/development plans. 

“I’ve been hearing about this for a decade,” he said. “I’ll likely be retired by the time it happens.”

Vinny Galanti owns Picante Tex Mex, a Mexican deli and food truck kitchen that’s been located on the site for the last year. He said more development could be good for his operation. 

But for McEvoy and his following, doors have closed.

McEvoy and musicians perform in the atelier’s fine art library and cafe to celebrate its opening.

A native Long Islander, McEvoy was classically trained as an artist in the Charles Cecil studios in Florence, Italy. He opened the studio in the spring of 2016 with a vision to revive the classical drawing and painting techniques and traditions taught for centuries in Europe. In addition to offering instruction and hosting exhibitions of local, national and internationally renowned artists, he incorporated free art history lectures open to the community. The events typically drew large crowds. The studio recently renovated a portion of its space to create a library and café comprised of special collection of thousands of fine art books. McEvoy feverishly sketched in charcoal on the building’s cinder block walls the design he envisioned for the library space. Once the studio was gifted a collection of art books, construction was completed.

In previous interviews, McEvoy said that his hope for the library was to offer artists a space where they could share ideas and offer inspiration to each other. McEvoy also had architectural renderings created to convert the outdoor space surrounding the studio into a less industrial, more inviting garden space.

McEvoy paints with fellow artists while musicians perform at the Jazz Loft in Stony Brook.

It’s unclear how The Atelier’s unique original mission and vision will change with new leadership.  

The Atelier news comes at a time when the St. James community and its Celebrate St. James campaign is gearing up for revitalization by emphasizing the arts. Ironically, those plans hinge upon Gyrodyne’s development.  

Since the project would require the construction of a new wastewater treatment facility, town officials have been expecting to use the new plant to serve the Lake Avenue business district. 

“The town has had talks with the folks at Gyrodyne regarding their sewer treatment plant and the Lake Avenue business district, and they verbally indicated they would be willing to build their facility to accommodate Lake Avenue,” said Smithtown council member Tom Lohmann (R). “Additionally, the town received funding from Sen. [John] Flanagan [(R-East Northport)], $3.9 million, so we could install a sewer line when we start the Lake Avenue project, with the expectation we would be connecting to their plant.”

Representatives from Celebrate St. James, a group focused on the revival of the community’s art district, is also depending upon the Gyrodyne sewage treatment plant. 

“If we don’t connect, the town has to find a new location and get approvals from local, state agencies and health departments, which would take not months or years, it could take decades,” said its president, Natalie Weinstein.

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Northport Middle School closes classrooms after elevated levels of toxic mercury were detected in a leaching pool outside near G-wing.

Elevated levels of mercury, an odorless toxic chemical, were detected Jan. 6 in the leaching pool area outside of the Northport Middle School. 

Three classrooms in the G-wing were closed in response “out of an abundance of caution.” The results of air quality tests in the classroom are still pending. Otherwise, it was business as usual at the school the days following the incident.

Parents and some retired teachers have raised numerous ongoing health concerns that they say stem from the chemicals and mold that has been found in various locations on school grounds. The building, they say, should be permanently closed. 

The incident is the latest issue parents argue that deems the site unsafe for children and teachers. The decision to close a school for air quality concerns falls under the jurisdiction of the school board, according to county and state health agencies. 

The district has stated on multiple occasions that it has found no evidence of unsafe air or conditions that would justify closure.

As stated in an email from Superintendent Robert Banzer sent to parents, PW Grosser Consulting, the environmental firm that discovered the elevated mercury levels, recommended that classrooms G-51 and G-52 remain unoccupied until further notice. G-51 has not been occupied since Dec. 10 stemming from a foul “rotten-egg” odor that was blamed on the school’s new heating and ventilation system.  

PWGC also recommended that students not occupy classroom G-53.  PWGC also recommended further air and vapor testing inside classrooms G-51, G-52 and G-53. 

Some parents, though, say students should be moved immediately. Former board member Tammie Topel said in a public letter that’s been widely circulated that sixth-graders should be scheduled to attend school at their home elementary school and seventh and eighth-graders should be moved to the district’s other middle school.  A 35 percent school population drop, she said, suggests that it is a viable option to explore. (See Topel’s open letter on page 18.)

The ongoing string of incidences raises serious questions about outside oversight of health standards in school districts. Several families in 2018 filed suit alleging that the district, county, town, state and the county and state health departments alleging personal injury induced by toxic exposures as a result of negligence. 

That year, the school remodeled its K-wing after toxic chemicals and volatile organic compounds were found in the building. 

Lawyers representing some of the families did not respond to messages left with their office.  

Last month, in response to a Nov. 20 TBR News Media article that exposed that the Northport-East Northport School District was in violation of some laws governing petroleum bulk storage, district officials announced that they would move its bus depot and refueling station from its location at the middle school to Cavay’s Building & Lumber Supply on Brightside Avenue. 

Meanwhile, a petition posted on Change. org called Close Northport Middle School has garnered over 3,050 signatures.

Banzer did not respond to request for comment prior to going to print about whether or not the board is discussing closing the school or relocating students. 

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Suffolk County Police Major Case Unit detectives are investigating a motor vehicle crash that killed a man and injured two women in Greenlawn Saturday morning Jan. 4.

Nicole Khouryawad was driving a 2018 Toyota Corolla on Broadway, near Depew Street, when her vehicle collided head-on with a southbound 2013 Toyota Corolla at approximately 7:50 a.m.

Khouryawad, 19, of Bellmore, was transported by the Greenlawn Fire Department to Huntington Hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries. The driver of the 2013 Toyota Corolla, Courtney Muller, 28, of Greenlawn, was transported to Southside Hospital for treatment of serious injuries. Muller’s passenger, Rahman Thomas, 43, of Greenlawn, was transported to Huntington Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

The vehicles were impounded for safety checks and the investigation is continuing. Detectives are asking anyone with information on the crash to call the Major Case Unit at 631-852-6555.