Times of Huntington

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

Dr. David Fiorella and Dr. Eric Niegelberg are spearheading the Mobile Stroke Unit Program. Photo provided by Stony Brook University

By Daniel Dunaief

In June, Diana Squitieri of Holbrook wasn’t making sense. Her son Joe noticed that she was also stumbling while her face was drooping.

When he brought her to his car to take her to the hospital, she became so disoriented that he asked his wife, Erin, to call 911. That decision, and the new vehicle that arrived, may have saved her life.

A Stony Brook University Hospital mobile stroke unit, which went into service two months before Squitieri’s symptoms developed, immediately started assessing her symptoms.

Each of the two units is a mobile stroke emergency room, which allows Stony Brook doctors to determine whether the patient has a blocked vessel or bleeding in the brain.

If the process of getting to the hospital and determining her condition had taken any longer, Joe Squitieri is convinced he “could have been burying her.”

For bringing these two stroke units to Suffolk County, the TBR News Media is pleased to recognize the team of medical professionals at Stony Brook Medicine who provide life-saving care for stroke victims.

The Squitieri family. Photo provided by the Squitieri family

Suffolk County is “one of only a few places in the entire United States to have these units,” said Dr. David Fiorella, the co-director of the Stony Brook Cerebrovascular Center.

Stony Brook hopes to add a third unit within the next year.

Through the end of September, the two units had received 550 calls. Of those, about half of the patients had a stroke. Some received anti-clotting drugs while in transit to the hospital, while an evaluation of others en route alerted surgeons to the need for rapid intervention.

Every minute during a stroke could endanger as many as two million brain cells, Fiorella said. That means cutting down on the time to receive medicine or to have surgery potentially saves millions of brain cells, which can improve the quality and quantity of a person’s life.

Squitieri is one of 23 people transported in the stroke unit who had an emergency surgical procedure to remove the clot.

Numerous people contributed to bringing these mobile units to Stony Brook, including Eric Niegelberg, the associate director of Operations for Emergency Services and Internal Medicine; Michael Guido, the co-director of the Stroke Center; Eileen Conlon, the RN coordinator of the stroke unit; and Carol Gomes, the interim CEO of Stony Brook Hospital.

Niegelberg appreciated Fiorella’s efforts.

“It was only through [Fiorella’s] leadership and perseverance that we were able to launch this program,” Niegelberg said in an email. Fiorella spent considerable time meeting with county legislators, EMS committees and EMS agencies to rally support for this program.

Fiorella appreciated the joint effort that made this lifesaving service possible. He was grateful that Gomes “saw the value” of this service. “Without her dedication, this would never have happened.”

Gomes believes the stroke units provide “an extraordinary medical service” while improving the quality of life for the community, she wrote in an email.

The mobile stroke units, which have four specialized personnel on board, are equipped with technology that allows Stony Brook neurologists to examine and diagnose each patient.

The outcomes for patients are better because of the earlier delivery of care, Fiorella said. Hospital stays are also shorter, lowering the cost of care.

Squitieri and her son Joe are thankful that the mobile stroke unit arrived at her home when it did.

Diana Squitieri recalled being scared during her stroke and said the crew took “wonderful care of me.”

Joe Squitieri called the stroke unit a “godsend.”

 

 

Government officials, Town of Huntington Public Safety officers, the Town of Huntington Fire Marshall and members of the Huntington and Dix Hills Fire Departments came together to announce that the Town of Huntington will be cracking down on people who choose to violate the law and park in marked handicapped spaces and fire zones. The town will be ramping up their efforts and will be out making sure to check that all cars parked in handicapped spaces have valid permits.

“The holiday season is here and parking lots are full. When there is an unoccupied handicapped parking space, it is tempting to park there for just for a few minutes to quickly run into a store. Parking in handicapped spaces violates the law. Valid permit holders must then park further away forcing them to walk longer distances endangering their health or they return home unable to do their shopping. We must remember that only those that have a valid New York State permit are permitted to park there.” stated Councilman Cuthbertson. “Parking in marked fire zones puts everyone at risk by obstructing those areas that are reserved for first responders in case of emergencies or evacuations. Please consider people’s needs before you park in a place that inconveniences another person or puts lives at risk just to park closer to the entrance of the store”

For anyone who chooses to park illegally in a handicapped parking space will receive a minimum fine of $230. If you park in a fire zone you can expect a minimum fine of $200. Both carry maximum fines from $600 to $630.

Supervisor Lupinacci stated “The Town is doing everything it can to ensure accessible parking is available for those who need it. This year, we made substantive amendments to the Traffic Code that introduces real consequences when there is a failure to respond to a parking ticket, which is making drivers think twice about parking in handicap spaces.”

“It is imperative to remember to respect the designated handicapped parking spaces and those who need them, especially this time of year. The Town of Huntington will be enforcing parking restrictions and any infractions will be met with a high fee. Park a little farther away during your trips around town and enjoy the crisp holiday air” said Councilman Edmund Smyth.

For anyone that would like to request a New York State Disability Parking Permit application can contact to Town Clerk’s office at 631-351-3206 or online athttps://www.huntingtonny.gov/disability-permits

Community gathers at Northport Middle School for 'sickout' . Photo by Donna Deddy

Northport Middle School students were once again evacuated from several classrooms on Monday Dec. 9 and Tuesday Dec. 10 in response to foul “rotten-egg” odors. The school’s new heating and ventilation system is being blamed. 

“There are a number of factors that can lead to odors in a school building,” said Superintendent Robert Banzer. “We believe the source of the latest indoor air quality issue at NMS may be related to the substantial amount of rain over the past few days.”

The district has hired an outside consultant to review the latest situation and will provide an update to the community once it is complete.

The district has said that laws prevent it from providing information on student health visits, but one parent on social media stated that five kids in one class went to the nurse’s office in response to the odors, according to the child’s account. 

Just last month parents and former teachers held protests, called sick-outs, demanding that the 65-year-old building be closed to address ongoing serious health concerns.

One of the classrooms involved in this week’s evacuation is a newly renovated science room G-51. In 2017, the room was found to sit above a storage area for hazardous chemicals, which have now been removed.

No formal health studies have yet to be initiated, to potentially link the school environment to disease, though Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) has requested that the state’s health department conduct a longitudinal study of students and teachers at Northport Middle School. 

More than 18 Northport Middle School students over the last 10 years, according to parent groups, have been diagnosed with rare, environmentally induced diseases, including blood cancers. Retired teachers have also conducted an informal survey that they say raises serious questions about the building’s safety. These health studies, state health officials have said, are often inconclusive. 

For decades, contamination issues have been the subject of ongoing concerns at the school, which has a history of storing hazardous chemicals, in some cases improperly.

Residents are invited to attend the Dec. 12 school board meeting, where Banzer will provide details about relocating the district’s bus depot and refueling station, which is located on the middle school grounds. 

Board member Larry Licopoli has been appointed to a subcommittee comprised of board and community members that is looking to test the soil for an array of chemicals. The subcommittee will be presenting some recommendations during the Dec. 12 board meeting. 

The Community Food Council on East 5th Street in Huntington Station needs help. 

Over the last three months, the food pantry has seen a 33 percent increase in demand for groceries. 

The nonprofit, all-volunteer organization has been feeding the hungry of Huntington Township since 1972 and expects to provide over 40,000 meals this year. 

They need more volunteers, to pick up bread from Stop & Shop once a week on Tuesday and to work at the pantry. Typically, volunteers help for about two hours at least one day a month.  

If you and your club or organization want to help restock the shelves, the council is in particular need of chicken soup, peanut butter and jelly, pasta, sauce, toilet paper, etc. 

Religious organizations in the area, as well as a couple of food markets and restaurants, provide food or support to the pantry. The group is a member of Long Island Cares and Island Harvest, which both also provide food to  for the hungry. The council is looking for additional support. 

The pantry is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 12 noon to give out food and receive donations.

For more information contact Jackie or Steven at 631-351-1060 or email the council at [email protected] or visit www.comfoodcouncil.org. 

Harborfields High School. Photo from Google Maps

The Harborfields Central School District will host its capital improvement bond referendum vote on Tuesday, Dec. 3. Polls will be open from 2-9 p.m. in the Oldfield Middle School auditorium.

The majority of projects proposed in the new bond referendum are basic infrastructure upgrades such as replacing outdated boilers, repairing cracked sidewalks, improving fresh air intake and replacing deteriorating ceiling and lighting fixtures. Not only have many of these systems exceeded their useful lifespan, but they are no longer compliant with code.

With an increased focus on student and staff safety, a number of security enhancements are also included in the proposal, including the construction of security vestibules at every school. Original doors and hardware will also be replaced to enhance building security.

The proposal includes a number of academic improvements for students, including the renovation of school libraries at TJL, OMS and HHS. The new spaces will provide students with modern environments for group collaboration, while using the latest in educational technology. A new general science classroom will also be added at TJL. A number of physical education and athletic enhancements are also included in the proposal, such as the construction of a new outdoor play area at Washington Drive Primary School and the renovation of the South Gym and the installation of a synthetic turf field at high school.

The proposed bond would cost approximately $20.4 million. Even with the community’s approval of these expenditures, residents will see a decrease in their taxes due to the timing of this bond to overlap with two expiring bonds. This is due to the fact that the district has approximately $52.7 million in debt that will be retiring in 2021 and 2023 from the bonds issued to construct Washington Drive Primary School. The new debt associated with this proposal would essentially “replace” a portion of the old debt.

All eligible residents are encouraged to vote. For information on voting including absentee ballot information, as well as a complete listing of projects proposed through the referendum, please visit the district’s website, www.harborfieldscsd.net.

At its Nov. 19 meeting, the Huntington Town Board moved to take legal action against opioid manufacturers, distributors and sellers to recover the Town’s costs of fighting the opioid epidemic, and conducted other town business.

The Town Board approved the retention of Tate Grossman Kelly & Iaccarino, LLP (TGKI Law) to represent the legal interests of the town  and its special districts. The firm has decades of collective experience with complex mass tort and multidistrict litigation representing dozens of municipalities seeking reimbursement for monies spent addressing the opioid crisis. It will commence an action against the manufacturers, distributors and sellers of opioids, and all other responsible parties, to recover all damages and costs incurred and to be incurred by the Town and its special districts in connection with the opioid crisis.

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) and Councilman Eugene Cook (I) co-sponsored the resolution hiring the self-described opioid crisis recovery law firm.

“Given the specialized nature of this litigation, hiring TGKI Law will benefit the Town and our residents, not only from their expertise in this area, having represented other municipalities fighting the opioid crisis, including those on Long Island,” said Lupinacci, “but in sharing the costs for their expert consultants with those other municipalities, reducing the litigation costs for our residents, to ensure those who helped create this public health and safety crisis are made responsible for the costs of fighting it.”

The Town’s case will be part of all federal cases nationwide. 

“It is extremely important that the Town of Huntington retain Tate Grossman Kelly & Iaccarino, LLP to handle this complex litigation to recover the financial costs of the opioid crisis, to the Huntington community against the manufacturers, distributors, and sellers of these opioid medications. Unfortunately, this lawsuit will not recover the harm and heartbreak this crisis has brought to the victims and their families who suffer or lost their life to opioids,” stated Cook. “This is a necessary first step to hold the pharmaceutical companies responsible for the monies spent on health care, substance abuse programs, public education, Narcan training and supplies and the criminal justice costs associated with the misuse of these prescription drugs.” 

 

Peter Scully, Suffolk County deputy county executive and water czar, responds to questions from  TBR News Media’s editorial staff:

1. You’ve been called Suffolk County’s water czar. Why does Suffolk County need a water czar?

The need for the county to have a high-level point person to advance the water quality agenda of County Executive Steve Bellone [D] is a result of two factors: The high priority that the county executive has placed on water quality issues, and the tremendous progress his administration has made over the past seven years in building a solid foundation to reverse decades of nitrogen pollution that has resulted primarily from the lack of sewers in Suffolk County and reliance on cesspools and septic systems that discharge untreated wastewater into the environment. The county executive succeeded in landing $390 million in post-Hurricane Sandy resiliency funding to eliminate 5,000 cesspools along river corridors on the South Shore by connecting parcels to sewers, and the county’s success in creating a grant program to make it affordable for homeowners to replace cesspools and septic systems with new nitrogen-reducing septic systems in areas where sewers are not a cost-effective solution, prompted the state to award Suffolk County $10 million to expand the county’s own Septic Improvement Program. These are the largest investments in water quality Suffolk has seen in 50 years, and the county executive saw the need to appoint a high-level quarterback to oversee the implementation of these programs.

 

2. Which groundwater contaminants are the highest priorities for Suffolk County? 

In 2014, the county executive declared nitrogen to be water quality public enemy No. 1. The nitrogen in groundwater is ultimately discharged into our bays, and about 70 percent of this nitrogen comes from on-site wastewater disposal (septic) systems. Excess nutrients have created crisis conditions, causing harmful algal blooms, contributing to fish kills and depleting dissolved oxygen necessary for health aquatic life. They have also made it impossible to restore our once nationally significant hard clam and bay scallop fisheries, have devastated submerged aquatic vegetation and weakened coastal resiliency through reduction of wetlands. Nitrogen also adversely impacts quality of drinking water, especially in areas with private wells, although public water supply wells consistently meet drinking water standards for nitrogen.

Other major contaminants of concern include volatile organic compounds, known as VOCs. For example, there is perchloroethlyene, historically from dry cleaners; and petroleum constituents — most recently MTBE, a gasoline additive — from fuel storage and transfer facilities.

Then there are pesticides. Active ingredients such as chlordane, aldicarb and dacthal have been banned, but some legacy contamination concerns exist, especially for private wells. Some currently registered pesticides are appearing in water supplies at low levels, including simazine/atrazine, imidacloprid and metalaxyl.

Emerging contaminants include PFAS, historically used in firefighting foams, water repellents, nonstick cookware; and 1,4-dioxane, an industrial solvent stabilizer also present at low levels in some consumer products. 

 

3. Are the chemicals coming from residential or industrial sites?

Contamination can emanate from a variety of sites, including commercial, industrial and residential properties. Many of the best-known cleanup sites are dealing with legacy impacts from past industrial activity. Examples include Grumman in Bethpage, Lawrence Aviation in Port Jefferson Station, Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton and the Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant in Calverton. There have been hundreds of Superfund sites on Long Island. Fortunately, most are legacy sites and new Superfund sites are relatively rare.

More recently, the use of firefighting foam has resulted in Superfund designations at the Suffolk County Firematics site in Yaphank, Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton, and East Hampton Airport. The foam was used properly at the time of discharge, but it was not known that PFAS would leach and contaminate groundwater.

The county’s 2015 Comprehensive Water Resources Management Plan found that some chemicals, such as VOCs, continue to increase in frequency of detection and concentration. While some of this is attributable to legacy industrial plumes, experts believe that residential and small commercial sites are partially responsible for contamination. This is partly because any substances that are dumped into a toilet or drain will reach the environment, and because solvents move readily through our sandy aquifer. Septic waste is, of course a major of contamination. Residential properties can be also responsible for other pollution, such as nitrogen from fertilizers and pesticides.

4. Which industries currently generate the most groundwater pollution in Suffolk County? 

The county’s Department of Health Services Division of Environmental Quality staff advise that, historically, the major contributors to groundwater pollution in the county were dry cleaners, and fuel storage and transfer facilities. However, current dry cleaning practices have minimized any possible groundwater discharges, and modern fuel facilities are engineered to more stringent code requirements that have substantially eliminated catastrophic releases. Low-level discharges are still a concern, and are the subject of the county’s VOC action plan to increase inspections and optimize regulatory compliance.

There are thousands of commercial and industrial facilities, most of which have the potential to pollute — for example, with solvent cleaners. Best management practices and industrial compliance inspections are key to minimizing and eliminating further contamination.

 

5. The word “ban” is often a dirty word in politics, but do you see benefits to banning certain products, and/or practices, for the sake of protecting the county’s drinking water supply? (The bans on DDT, lead in gasoline and HFCS, for example, were very effective at addressing environmental and human health concerns.) 

Policymakers have not hesitated to ban the use of certain substances — DDT, lead in gasoline, chlordane, MTBE — in the face of evidence that the risks associated with the continued introduction of a chemical into the environment outweigh the benefits from a public health or environmental standpoint. Based on health concerns, I expect that there will be active discussion in the years ahead about the merits of restricting the use of products that introduce emerging contaminants like 1,4-dioxane and PFCs into the environment.

 

6. If people had more heightened awareness, could we slow or even eliminate specific contaminants? As consumers, can people do more to protect groundwater? 

There is no question that heightened awareness about ways in which everyday human activities impact the environment leads people to change their behaviors in ways that can reduce the release of contaminants into the environment. A good example is the county’s Septic Improvement Program, which provides grants and low interest loans for homeowners who choose to voluntarily replace their cesspools or septic systems with new nitrogen-reducing technology. More than 1,000 homeowners have applied for grants under the program, which set a record in October with more 100 applications received.

If a home is not connected to sewers, a homeowner can replace their cesspool or septic system with an innovative/alternative on-site wastewater treatment system. Suffolk County, New York State and several East End towns are offering grants which can make it possible for homeowners to make this positive change with no significant out-of-pocket expense. Consumers can choose to not flush bleaches or toxic/hazardous materials down the drain or into their toilets. Consumers can also take care to deliver any potentially toxic or hazardous household chemicals to approved Stop Throwing Out Pollutants program sites. Homeowners can choose not to use fertilizers or pesticides, or to opt for an organic, slow-release fertilizer at lowest label setting rates.

 

7. Can you offer examples of products to avoid or practices to adopt that would better protect the drinking water supply? 

Consumers can choose to not flush bleaches or household hazardous materials down the drain or into their toilets. Consumers can also take care to deliver any potentially toxic or hazardous household chemicals to approved STOP program sites. Homeowners can choose not to use fertilizers or pesticides, or to opt for an organic, slow release fertilizer at lowest label setting rates.

 

8. Aside from banning products or chemicals, and raising awareness, how do you address the issue?

Promoting the use of less impactful alternatives to products which have been shown to have a significant and/or unanticipated impact on public health or the environment, on a voluntary basis, is a less contentious approach than banning a substance or placing restrictions on its use through a legislative or rulemaking process. Such an approach should only be taken with the understanding that its success, value and significance will depend in large part on public awareness and education.

 

9. What about product labeling, similar to the U.S. Office of the Surgeon General warnings about cigarettes, or carcinogens in California, etc.? Can the county require products sold to include a groundwater contamination warning?

The question of whether the county Legislature has authority to implement labeling requirements could be better addressed by an attorney.

 

10. People, including some elected officials and people running for public office, sometimes say that sewage treatment plants remove all contaminants from wastewater. Can you set the record straight? What chemicals, including radioactive chemicals, are and are not removed from wastewater via sewage treatment?

Tertiary wastewater treatment plants are designed primarily to remove nitrogen, in addition to biodegradable organic matter. However, wastewater treatment is also effective at removing many volatile organic compounds. Some substances, such as 1,4-dioxane, are resistant to treatment and require advanced processes for removal. Evidence shows that the use of horizontal leaching structures instead of conventional drainage rings may facilitate removal of many pharmaceuticals and personal care products, known as PPCPs. Advanced treatment technologies, such as membrane bioreactors, are also being tested for efficacy of removal of PPCPs.

Staff advise that the mere presence of chemicals in wastewater in trace amounts does not necessarily indicate the existence of a public health risk. All wastewater treatment must treat chemicals to stringent federal and state standards. In some cases, such as for emerging contaminants, specific standards do not exist. In those cases, the unspecified organic contaminant requirement of 50 parts per billion is commonly applied.

 

11. Can you provide an example of a place where residential and industrial groundwater contamination concerns were reversed or adequately addressed?

There are numerous examples, mostly under the jurisdiction of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, in which groundwater concerns have been addressed through treatment to remove contaminants. Because health and safety are always the most important issues, the first priority is typically to make sure that people who live near an impacted site have a safe supply of drinking water. In areas served by public water suppliers — Suffolk County Water Authority or a local water district — this is not usually an issue, since public water suppliers are highly regulated and are required to test water supply wells regularly. In areas where people are not connected to a public water system, and rely instead on private wells, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services will work with the water supplier to identify properties that are not connected to a public water system and then contact homeowners to urge them to have their water tested at no charge to make sure that it is safe for consumption. 

Over the past several years, Suffolk County, New York State and the Suffolk County Water Authority have worked together to connect hundreds of homes that had relied on private wells to the public water system, to make sure people have access to safe drinking water.

 

12. Are you hopeful about addressing the issues? 

I am hopeful and optimistic about the success of efforts to reverse the ongoing degradation of water quality that has resulted from reliance on cesspools and septic systems. For the first time in Long Island’s history, environmentalists, business leaders, scientists, organized labor and the building trades all agree that the long-term threat that has resulted from the lack of sewers to both the environment and economy is so great that a long-term plan to address the need for active wastewater treatment is not an option, but a necessity. Experience shows that public awareness can be a significant factor in driving public policy.