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Bethpage school officials to monitor air

An exterior view of Bethpage High School located

An exterior view of Bethpage High School located at 10 Cherry Ave. (Oct. 2, 2012) Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

Air quality in Bethpage High School, which is next to a toxic waste site, is within state standards for chemical contaminants, according to a new report, but researchers recommend continued testing.

Recent sampling found chemicals present in soil under the school that can affect the central nervous system and may cause cancer, but plastic sheeting installed as part of an asbestos treatment program appears to have prevented the contaminants from rising into the school air, researchers said.

The results mirror air quality tests in 2008 and "no problems have been identified," state Department of Environmental Conservation spokeswoman Lisa King said in a statement.

"We are pleased with the assurance of state officials and independent analysts that there are no immediate health risks to children and staff," district Superintendent Terrence Clark said.

The district told teachers about the results on the first day of school, posted a notice on its website and notified parent-teacher associations.

Once a Grumman disposal site

The high school is across the street from Bethpage Community Park. The site had been a legal Navy and Grumman Corp. disposal site for chemical waste from aviation manufacturing as well as solvents, rags, wastewater sludge, chromium and other chemicals before the Town of Oyster Bay acquired the land in 1962. A plume of contaminants from the park is moving south in the groundwater.

Hauppauge-based J.C. Broderick & Associates Inc. analyzed school air samples in July and found concentrations of tetrachloroethene, known as PCE, in the air pockets of soil beneath the school. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said PCE is "likely to be carcinogenic in humans." Toluene and tetrahydrofuran, which can affect the central nervous system, were also discovered.

Plastic placed in the crawl space under the entire school as part of asbestos treatment several years ago may be keeping the contaminants from entering the building, said Brendan Broderick, owner of Broderick & Associates.

"It appears the plastic is preventing it [contamination] from migrating," he said.

School areas tested included crawl spaces, the basement and the first-floor cafeteria, officials said. "We just want everybody to rest assured we have a clean bill of health," Clark said.

The Bethpage school district board hired Broderick's firm in July after a June community meeting with the DEC about plans to clean up the park plume.

The $23,000 contract covered testing at the high school and at Central Boulevard Elementary School, which is less than 2 miles away and on the western edge of the plume. The elementary school tests showed levels of compounds below state standards, Broderick's analysis found.


Funds needed for monitoring

The report suggested periodic monitoring of the air in both schools. The district is reviewing the findings and the board will discuss how to proceed at its next meeting, Clark said.

The school district sought financial assistance from the DEC and the state Department of Health to cover any additional monitoring.

"Finding the money is not easy," Clark said. "If we have to pay for it, we'll pay for it. We just believe we should get assistance on this -- we didn't create the problem."

King said in a statement that the DEC would not reimburse the district "for sampling that they decide to undertake, since no problems have been identified."

Health department spokesman Peter Constantakes said in a statement that, based on the 2008 study and the new data, the health department "sees no cause for concern or need for additional monitoring."

In a broader study, the health department is analyzing decades of cancer diagnosis in residential areas near the park, Grumman plant and Navy sites, and studying carcinogen levels in the air. A final report is due later this fall.

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