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Source: The Long Island Advance

Town Officials React to Growing Landfill Concerns


Posted: August 18, 2017
Originally Published: August 17, 2017

South Country area residents, parents and teachers took their frustrations over health issues at the Frank P. Long Intermediate School to town officials at a town board meeting last week.

The public comment portion of the meeting was overwhelmed by community members, parents and several teachers, each giving powerful testimony similar to what the South Country Board of Education has heard over the last several months.

At the meeting, Brookhaven Waste Management commissioner Matt Miner read two letters dated Aug. 10, 2017, from the New York State Department of Health and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Both letters attempt to quell concerns that the town’s landfill is the source of numerous health issues in the area. The letters, Miner said, are “luminous,” and he hoped they would put an end to “misinformation” regarding the 270-foot landfill that casts a shadow over the fourth- and fifth-grade school, Tony Gazzola Park on Martha Avenue and surrounding neighborhood.

In a letter to Dr. Joseph Giani, superintendent of South Country Schools, from DEC regional director Carrie Meeks Gallagher, the DEC has “determined the predominant source of benzene in the community to be motor vehicles.” Gallagher adds that “it is not accurate to conclude” that the benzene measured in the air can be directly traced to the community and “there are numerous potentially attributable sources of benzene emissions in the community.”

In addition, Gallagher claims that information given at a February 2016 meeting with the DEC, Citizens Campaign for the Environment and the Brookhaven Community Coalition has been misrepresented. The DEC claims that this meeting was in regard to odors at the landfill, and one PowerPoint slide included the statement: “Low levels of VOCs were detected. On-site and off-site detections are correlated, indicating the landfill to be the primary source.”

CCE executive director Adrienne Esposito claims that the slide referenced traces of benzene and other VOCs found as a result of testing. “The slides were never meant to be a stand-alone document, but rather part of an oral presentation that explained and expanded on the talking points within,” Gallagher continued in her letter. She did note that the wording on the slide “could have been better formulated,” and more accurate if odors were referenced on the page.

Last month, Dr. James L. Tomarken, the Suffolk County health commissioner, asked state officials to review the air monitoring data from Frank P. Long. In response, Dr. Elizabeth Lewis-Michl, director of the state division of environmental health assessment, wrote, “In general, the results of the indoor air samples were unremarkable.”

After reading the letters, Supervisor Ed Romaine said, “Neither of these letters in any way, manner, shape or form suggest that there is a health or otherwise issue vis-à-vis the landfill at the Frank P. Long School.”

Miner also added that those test results would have led the town’s own consultants to the same conclusions, since the town spends a “considerable” amount of money on monitoring the landfill. “But if we release those conclusions, they would be suspect by people who say they would be self-serving,” Romaine said. “Some people have even questioned the school district’s consultant. I don’t know what that agenda might be.” Both Romaine and Miner agreed that after reading the letter, people should be able to draw “clear” conclusions.

But it’s too late to change some determined minds.

Trish Gallina, a teacher at Frank P. Long, gave an impassioned speech to the board, asking them if they have had to smell the landfill daily, or lost friends and colleagues from illnesses. “You can read all the letters you want, but this to me is government protecting government,” she said. “This is not government working for its citizens. If you’re not going to take responsibility for the landfill, then I compel you to help us figure out what the heck is going on at that school.”

Bellport resident Monique Armann said she’d “take a mother’s gut feeling and intuition over 100 letters from the state of NY,” before urging the town to accelerate the shutdown of the landfill.

Several more parents shared their own emotional experiences before the board. Their stories brought Councilwoman Valerie Cartright to tears. “I’m sorry that you’re going through what you’re going through. I can’t imagine that as a mother, as a woman, as someone in the Brookhaven community. If there’s anything that I can do to assist you figure out what is going on, because clearly something is going on, just reach out to me,” she said. “I can’t let you leave today without saying that you have been heard.”

Romaine, echoing her sentiments, noted that his track record as supervisor has been focused on closing the landfill responsibly. “When I became supervisor, I reversed the decision of the former board, which had a different political composition, and the former supervisor, who wanted to expand the landfill by taking it up by 50 feet,” Romaine said. “I stopped that dead in its tracks when I first came into office. I put it on track to instead close in seven or eight years.”

Romaine said that while the board is concerned about health and safety, this issue is an emotional one. “But we’re not scientists. We rely on data, and we have to rely on data to make our decisions,” he said.

Citing his 12-year tenure as a school board member in the Longwood School District, Councilman Michael Loguercio said the health of kids is paramount. “You can take it to the bank that we will support any effort to make this right,” he said. “We are studying the data. We are behind you, and we want to make sure no one else gets sick from this,” Loguercio said.

Last night, the South Country Board of Education held a special meeting to discuss final EnviroScience test results done at the Frank P. Long School. Our reporter attended the meeting, but no information was available by press time.