Ex-New York rep thanks Eyewitness News for coverage of health concerns at Long Island school

NORTHPORT, Long Island (WABC) -- A former New York state assemblyman representing Huntington and surrounding communities thanked 7 On Your Side Investigates Friday for ongoing coverage of health concerns at a middle school on Long Island.

Earlier this week, the Northport School District closed Northport Middle School and relocated students after discovering elevated levels of mercury and benzene on the school property.

An Eyewitness News investigation roughly two years ago indicated the possibility of the presence of both chemicals on the property, but at the time, a majority of elected board members resisted further testing -- specifically soil testing -- for contaminants.

"I want to thank you for always keeping an eye on this and reporting on this, because it's a result of the parents, the result of the media, I always say the media is the fourth branch of government," said former Assemblyman Andrew Raia, R-Huntington. "You are the reason the health department is finding it untenable and that they have to cover their behinds to make sure because no kid should have to face the effects of cancer because they went to school.

The environmental firm conducting the testing on behalf of the district cautioned parents during a Thursday night school board meeting that while mercury was found in a leaching pool and benzene was discovered in a septic tank on the school property, the chemicals have not been detected in the air in the school building.

Further testing is underway by P.W. Grosser, and representatives of the firm indicated they hoped to have a more comprehensive report about the environmental conditions at the school and any potential health concerns by early spring.

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