Empowering Communities, Advocating Solutions


Source: The Long Island Advance

Frank P. Long to open in September


Posted: August 24, 2017
Originally Published: August 24, 2017

After the most recent EnviroScience test results were presented to the South Country Board of Education at a meeting last week, the board reached a consensus to keep the school open.

Public comment closed just after 11 p.m. last Wednesday evening and board president Cheryl Felice addressed the packed auditorium. “We’ve gone over the results we have been compiling from our three previous meetings about Frank P. Long,” she said. “The results have shown us, right now, that we have no definitive reason to close Frank P. Long at this point. There’s a consensus on the board that no further action be taken at this point.”

Board members agreed that the latest EnviroScience data shows no reasonable sense to close the school.
Felice said the latest round of tests are the most extensive ones that have ever been done at the school, and that conducting the tests are in line with a move towards greater transparency in the district in general. Concerns were heightened after steadfast parents inquired about test results to district superintendent Dr. Joseph Giani. One of those parents, Monique Armann, recalled that Giani told them to request those files through the Freedom of Information Law.

“It was a mistake,” Felice said of residents initially having to FOIL the test results. “But on July 5, this board decided to make all of that information publicly available and be transparent. Residents should never have to FOIL health and safety tests again.”

Before the announcement, parents and teachers again took to the stand to address the board with their health concerns. Parent Amy Bender referred to the entire ordeal as a parent’s “burden” of proving the illnesses are real. “I feel like I’ve been on trial all summer,” she said.

Armann asked the board and EnviroScience CEO Glenn Neuschwender about the finding of 1,2-dichloropropane at the school during a previous study conducted at the school, and what was being done about it. Neuschwender, who said the chemical may have come from a pesticide found in the soil, said that it was currently being remediated.

In the most recent results, Neuschwender said only one VOC was found in all the classrooms, but retested after “suspect items” such as cleaning products and magic markers were taken out of the room. The retest detected no VOCs in the classroom.

Some parents and teachers left the meeting feeling defeated. When a series of letters from the NY State Department of Health and NY State Department of Environmental Conservation went public ahead of the meeting, some felt that sealed the deal.

In a letter to Giani from DEC regional director Carrie Meeks Gallagher, the DEC has “determined the predominant source of benzene in the community to be motor vehicles.” Gallagher added, “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.”

Gallagher also claimed 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.

At the board of ed meeting last week, Esposito stood by her claims, noting that she has an audio of the meeting she would send to the board. “Still, the tests were not taken during odor events,” she said. “So it’s not a full, comprehensive picture.”

Throughout the meeting, Neuschwender and several residents cited a Department of Health study on cancer clusters in the area dating back to the mid 1990s. Retired FPL teacher Theresa Palermo hopes that further studies will be conducted, showing more accurate data, since the cancer cases started in 1998. “We are waiting for the state health department to come back with a decision about doing a health study for the whole community,” she said. “It would look at illnesses and cancer rates.”

Palermo said she left Wednesday night’s meeting feeling “devastated.”

“I expected them to keep the school open,” she said, noting that teachers were already receiving their room assignments and when the classrooms would be ready for prep. “It’s been an emotional journey,” said Palermo, a lung cancer survivor. “Those of us who had cancer, who had chemo ... we dragged ourselves to school,” she added, recalling a former teaching assistant in her classroom who was being treated for colon cancer before Palermo’s own diagnosis. “She would go for chemo on the weekends so she didn’t have to take time off. I always kept a bottle of ginger ale and crackers on her desk.”
Aside from her own cancer battle, Palermo said she is concerned about her granddaughter, an incoming fifth-grader at the school. But she hopes the discussion will be ongoing. “I survived lung cancer, so I look at things as gifts, lessons learned and experiences,” Palermo said. “There were a lot of victories last night. I know it didn’t seem like it, but there were.”

Those ‘victories’ include the board’s willingness to have these conversations in the first place. “We are having this discussion no one has ever had before,” said Palermo. “I believe this current board of ed is going to keep this conversation going. Their new policy of transparency is a start. We’re making headway.”

Dr. Giani reiterated that the findings of the latest tests were a result of the most extensive environmental testing ever done at the school. “After receiving the findings, the board found no reason to act on closing the school, so the school will remain open,” Giani said in an email, noting that the district is open to furthering the discussion. “The district will continue to be proactive and will be creating an Indoor Air Quality Team at Frank P. Long and each of our schools to monitor indoor air quality and related issues throughout the district,” he said.