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State: No cancer cluster found at Bellport school

Staff at Frank P. Long Intermediate School in

Staff at Frank P. Long Intermediate School in Bellport blamed the nearby town landfill for illnesses. Credit: Raychel Brightman

A state Health Department report launched amid concerns about emissions from the Brookhaven Town landfill concluded there is insufficient evidence of a cancer cluster at a Bellport school where some staff blamed the dump for tumors and other illnesses.

The six-page report, released last week, said 31 confirmed cancer diagnoses over 38 years among staff at Frank P. Long Intermediate School did not appear to be an unusually high cancer rate. The types of cancers reported by school staff also did not appear to be rare, the report said.

About 30 staff, parents, students and neighbors of the school, about a mile south of the 192-acre landfill, have filed a state lawsuit alleging Brookhaven Town failed to protect them from noxious odors emanating from the dump in Brookhaven hamlet. The suit, which seeks unspecified damages, states that plaintiffs suffered ailments ranging from throat irritation to cancer.

The health department's Cancer Surveillance Program sought to determine whether school employees developed cancer at a higher rate than normal. The report did not seek to link the cancer cases to the landfill or any other possible causes.

"Based on the information available to us and our comparative review of confirmed cancer cases, the number and pattern of cancer diagnoses do not appear unusual," the report said.

The study was begun following meetings between state and Suffolk County health officials and the Bellport Teachers Association, which represents the school's teaching staff.

Advocates for the teachers, including their lawyer, criticized the report for failing to consider possible factors causing the cancers, and for ignoring other types of illnesses.

“I think it’s pretty tragic that the health department tells us that this kind of cancer we have to accept and expect," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment, which has worked closely with the school's staff. “They should stop telling us what the statistics are and start telling us what the causes are.”

E. Christopher Murray, the Uniondale attorney representing school staff, said the report would not affect the lawsuit.

“It’s very limited in its scope,” he said. “I don’t think it paints a complete picture of what’s going on at this school.”

In a prepared statement, town spokesman Jack Krieger said the landfill is closely monitored by state environmental authorities. "We work diligently every day to operate our facility safely and efficiently, and this report reinforces that our efforts there have been successful,” he wrote.

The South Country school district, in a message posted on the district website, said it cooperated with the probe. The district provided no additional comment.

In their report, health department officials said they considered factors such as the timing of cancer diagnoses, the ages of staff afflicted with cancer and the types of cancers reported. They said 13 kinds of cancer were reported, with breast cancer the most common.

"Ages of the people at the time of their diagnosis were typical for the types of cancer they had," the report said, adding that 28 of 31 confirmed cases had been reported since 2000, which "was not unexpected given the greater numbers of older, retired staff" and improved methods of diagnosing cancer.

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