A local U.S. senator is calling for a federal agency to assist in the toxic chemical investigation at Northport Middle School, which is closed for the remainder of the academic year.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), in a Feb. 3 letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief, Andrew Wheeler, urged the EPA to join local and state regulators in conducting an investigation of toxic chemicals at the school and near the campus, as well as in the Northport-East Northport school district.
“Our children’s and workers’ health is too important to risk, therefore I urge EPA perform a comprehensive site investigation and take whatever action necessary to address any contamination found,” Schumer wrote.
The decision to close the middle school came after an investigation by Bohemia-based PW Grosser Consulting Inc. — the district’s environmental firm — which revealed elevated levels of mercury vapor outside one of the classrooms. Tests also found elevated levels of benzene in soil samples from septic systems around the school.
The school’s closing has resulted in the district relocating 660 sixth- to eighth-graders to other buildings, according to Schumer.
The senator expressed other big concerns.
“Just under 3 miles down the road from Northport Middle School, a [New York State Department of Health] review revealed that there was a statistically significant higher rate of leukemia among the Northport High School’s graduating class of 2016,” he wrote. “Consequently, the NYSDOH has launched a wider investigation into cancer occurrences throughout the Northport-East Northport school district.”
In the letter, Schumer included information from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. According to the public health agency, the major health effects of long-term exposure to benzene include damage to bone marrow and a decrease in red blood cells. Schumer added that long-term exposure to benzene in the air has been shown to cause leukemia according to multiple health agencies, while the EPA has determined benzene to be carcinogenic to humans.
“In the case of Northport Middle School, mercury vapors are especially concerning as, in this form, the mercury more easily reaches the brain,” he wrote.
Schumer urged the EPA “to utilize all of its available authority, as well as its considerable technical expertise, to quickly investigate and address the possible contamination around Northport Middle School and within Northport-East Northport school district.”