Assemblyman clarifies his role in talks about moving LI school over landfill concerns

State Assemblyman Dean Murray cleared up confusion Thursday about his involvement in talks exploring the possibility of relocating Frank P. Long Intermediate School in Bellport last year in response to ongoing concerns that the nearby Brookhaven Landfill could be sickening students and teachers.

"I want to clarify that no money was offered and no money was turned down," Murray said.

The confusion began when parents learned Murray had made calls to the New York State Department of Health and the New York State Education Department last year when he learned the South Country School District was considering the possibility of closing Frank P. Long.

"I wanted to be proactive to see if the state could offer funds to lessen the impact on taxpayers," Murray said.

Murray said he made the South Country School District Board of Education aware he had received informal confirmation that the state would be able to offset taxpayer costs to relocate the students and staff at Frank P. Long to a school in Sachem that had been closed for budgetary reasons should the BOE choose to do so.

However, Murray said talks never progressed because test results obtained by the South Country School District led the Board of Education to determine closing the school was not necessary.

Murray's involvement came up in a recent board of education meeting in which parents expressed frustration that the BOE had not decided to move the school.

Ongoing testing of air quality at the school has detected low-level pollutants but nothing the state Department of Health said would warrant closing the school.

"Extensive environmental testing data does not indicate a need to close the school," said a DOH spokesperson.

Chemical toxicologist Harold Zeliger told 7 On Your Side Investigates his analysis of state testing led him to believe a combination of low-level chemicals could be making people sick.

The Department of Health declined review of that hypothesis but did promise to examine the number of teachers at the school contracting cancers.

As of early February, 35 teachers had contracted cancer and 14 had died in roughly 20 years.

"I think it's important that we get some real answers about what's going on," Murray said. "I hope they come back and say everything is fine."

The Department of Health is currently reviewing incidents of cancer among teachers at the school. A spokesperson said early results from that study could be available in one to two months.

The Department of Environmental Conservation has also promised additional air quality testing to begin in spring, likely by April, according to a department spokesperson.

In late February 2018, Enviroscience Consultants, Inc. also performed indoor and outdoor air testing on behalf of the South Country School District.

President of Enviroscience Consultants, Inc. Glenn Neuschwender summarized the findings in a February 28 letter to the South Country School District business manager.

Neuschwender explained the company took 14 air samples from various locations at the school.

"The results from the air investigation showed that levels of select VOCs were detected in the samples." He added that "there were no volatile organic compounds detected above the guideline values."

Finally, the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute is beginning a pilot program at the school.

Some misunderstanding has arisen about the nature of that pilot.

Thursday, the Institute's director, Chuck Ruffing, clarified his organization's study is not connected to ongoing concerns about air quality like some had thought.

The Institute's pilot program which will run several weeks during April and May will work with the school to reduce cafeteria waste, increase recycling and introduce less hazardous cleaning products.

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