EPA inquiring about hazards at shuttered Long Island school

NORTHPORT, Long Island (WABC) -- New York Senator Charles Schumer is calling on the federal government to assist in an investigation into health concerns at a middle school on Long Island that closed abruptly following the discovery of elevated levels of benzene in the septic system and mercury in a cesspool on the property.

Schumer called closing Northport Middle School late last month "a smart step amid more questions than answers," and he suggested state and local health officials could benefit from the assistance of expertise at the Environmental Protection Agency "to swiftly gather critical answers rooted in science."

Northport Middle School has been the repeated source of health related complaints over multiple decades.

A teacher collapsed in the building in the early 2000s, and a subsequent health department evaluation found the school had improperly dumped chemicals down school drains.

Students have also repeatedly complained about sickening odors that have at times forced the evacuation of classrooms.

In late 2017, health officials found the school district has been improperly storing hazardous chemicals and occasionally a vehicle in a warehouse below classrooms, and air quality tests found elevated levels of cancer-causing trichloroethylene (TCE) among other volatile organic compounds.

Now, the New York State Department of Health is seeking to understand the discovery of an elevated rate of leukemia cases among the school district's 2016 graduating class while also helping local health officials create a cleanup plan to remove the chemicals from the property.

The Northport School District has relocated the school's roughly 600 students to other campuses in the district.

"Our children's and our 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 in a letter to the EPA Administrator. "I urge 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."

The EPA responded with the following statement:

"EPA will consult with our environmental and health partners in New York State, which have the lead in this matter, to ascertain how EPA may be of assistance. Once we have more information, we will more formally respond to Senator Schumer."

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