LONG ISLAND, New York (WABC) -- New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo responded to a series of 7 On Your Side Investigates reports examining complaints about air quality in schools and called for better monitoring of air quality in schools during an exclusive interview with Eyewitness News.
Cuomo's comments followed roughly six months of investigative reporting by 7 On Your Side Investigates exposing concerning conditions at two separate schools on opposite ends of Long Island.
At Northport Middle School, health inspections documented cases of improperly stored hazardous chemicals in a warehouse below classrooms, as well as past cases of unpermitted discharges of toxic or hazardous materials into a campus cesspool, and the discovery of volatile organic chemicals above what's typical in a New York home and in the case of cancer-causing TCE, above New York state health guidelines.
"This is far from a healthy and safe environment," said Bethany Watts, a concerned parent whose daughter has tested positive for elevated levels of carbon monoxide in her blood.
In Bellport, at Frank P. Long Intermediate School, environmental advocates worried a nearby landfill is the source of volatile organic compounds which a New York State Department of Health letter indicated was detected above typical background levels at the school.
"It's a 280-foot mountain of rotting garbage," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment.
In both schools, students have complained of respiratory issues and headaches and teachers have reported cancers.
New York state has no regulations specifically requiring regular indoor air quality testing in schools.
While state code does require schools to create "maintenance plans" that contribute to "acceptable air quality," an education department spokesperson couldn't say if anyone at the state is actually checking whether those policies are created or enforced.
"I would say the state is not looking for the problem, therefore they're not finding the problem and that is a problem," Esposito said.
During a media school bus ride organized by Gov. Cuomo's office to promote school safety, Cuomo reacted to the Eyewitness News series of investigations and indicated he believed the state needs to do more to monitor air quality in schools.
"I am a supporter of both air protection and water protection. They are both issues that need real monitoring," Cuomo said. "Water should be tested. Same with air quality, and I'm working very hard to put better standards in place."
Despite Cuomo's state commitment to addressing the issue, the 2018 legislative session came to an end this week with no legislation requiring air quality testing in schools, and teachers, students and parents wonder what it will take for that to change.
"Somebody needs to step up and say, 'We want to protect these children,'" Watts said.
Following a 7 On Your Side Investigates report in May on air quality at Northport Middle School, some board members proposed two separate studies to further evaluate what could be sickening students at the school and whether the district needs to take additional steps to mitigate the problem.
Both proposals were voted down.
Some parents at Northport are now calling on the state to pass legislation that would mandate indoor air quality testing in schools.
They're calling it the 'Emily Michelle Law' after two girls who got sick while attending Northport Middle School.
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