Residents near Roberto Clemente Park in Islip fear for their health
Fern Rostas is worried, very worried, about her soon to be 5-year-old grandson. "He's been coughing," she said Wednesday.
"It seems like a lot of people around here have been coughing," her neighbor, Mike Morales, said.
We are standing in Rostas' front yard on Timberline Drive -- some 300 feet from Roberto Clemente Park, the Islip Town-owned recreational facility-turned-toxic-waste site.
It is early afternoon, a wind is blowing and the neighbors begin talking about dust that drifts through the doors and windows and into their houses.
"It gets everywhere inside and out," Morales, 37, said. "You can wash a car and 20 minutes later it's dusty again."
At one point, a man walks out of a house and toward us, brandishing a copy of yesterday's Newsday -- with the front page headline that reads: "Environmental Nightmare . . . Contractor dumped asbestos-laden debris."
"This," the neighbor says, "is how we find out the latest on what's going on across the street."
Has the Town of Islip been in contact with the neighborhoods near the park, especially after Tuesday's revelations from Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota about asbestos being found in construction debris?
No, the residents said.
Last month, a team from the state Department of Enviromental Conservation came through, they said, asking neighbors about what they saw in the park and what they heard.
"They basically told us, hey, you're living across the street from a toxic waste dump," Rostas, 67, said.
In the wake of a subpoena from Spota's office, the town shuttered the park, securing gates with fresh, thick silver-colored locks and chains.
Some Timberline Drive residents had stopped using the park long before then.
Morales said he stopped walking his dog there after broken glass injured one of the animal's paws. Other neighbors complained about their cats and dogs becoming sick.
But mostly they're worried about their health and their neighbors' health.
"People are coughing," Morales said.
"I don't worry so much about me, I worry about the children," Rostas said.
The neighbors know that asbestos is dangerous and that it was found in the park, they said. What they don't know yet is whether the debris is a threat to their health.
Which makes them angry.
But, mostly, they are scared -- as neighbors bordering the park on Timberline, Nolan Street, Broadway, and Mockingbird Place have every right to be.
At one point, as the wind keeps blowing, the conversation drifts back to the dust that coats the tongue and leaves a bitter aftertaste.
"It's, like, sort of metallic," Rostas said.
In that moment -- 300 feet from the park -- it is incomprehensible how the Town of Islip could ignore the park's neighbors.
The residents said they complained to the town, for months, about trucks and noise, about a machine that chewed construction debris and spit out dust.
They complained about the glass and the rebar that seemed to spring suddenly from the soil.
"It seems like nobody wanted to know anything from us then," Rostas said. "Nobody is talking to us now."
And so a call went out to Islip, where a spokeswoman said the town had in fact notified residents through social media, its website and at a news conference Tuesday near the front of the park, away from what is left of the debris.
Islip abruptly reversed course a half-hour later, saying they would now share what information they have with the neighborhood.
"We will be dispatching our employees tomorrow morning to get the word out, door to door, to neighbors living near the park," said the town spokeswoman, Inez Birbiglia.
Why did it take so long?