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Northport superintendent says 'no detectable levels of mercury vapor' found

Environmental firm PW Grosser Consulting Inc. had detected

Environmental firm PW Grosser Consulting Inc. had detected elevated levels of mercury in an underground leaching pool, also referred to as a cesspool, outside of and adjacent to classroom G-51 at Northport Middle School. Credit: Ian J. Stark

An environmental firm found “no detectable levels of mercury vapor” in Northport Middle School classrooms that abut a contaminated cesspool outside the building, Superintendent Robert L. Banzer said in a letter to parents Thursday.

The update follows an announcement on Monday from the district that PW Grosser Consulting Inc. detected elevated levels of mercury in an underground leaching pool, also referred to as a cesspool, outside of and adjacent to classroom G-51.

Classroom G-51 has been unoccupied since Dec. 10 due to “moisture-related odors.”

The firm tested spaces in the building closest to the contaminated area, including the science prep room, the adjacent hallway and three classrooms, G-51, G-52 and G-53.

“Good news!” Banzer said in the letter to parents. “I just received verbal confirmation from the district’s environmental firm PWGC that there were no detectable levels of mercury vapor found in any of the spaces that were tested.”

Cesspools are underground pits with concrete, brick or cement block walls into which wastewater flows and drains into the soil through perforated walls.

The classrooms remained unoccupied while testing was underway, Banzer said this week. They will reman closed for now, the district’s public relations firm said Friday.

PW Grosser Consulting is working on a remediation plan that will involve the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, Banzer said in the letter.

Suffolk has worked with the school district in the past to remediate a leaching pool at the school, said Grace Kelly-McGovern, public relations director at Suffolk County Department of Health Services. 

"SCDHS is aware of sampling that has recently occurred at the Northport Middle School and that additional sampling is planned," Kelly-McGovern said. "Once the results of this sampling are available, SCDHS will work with the school district to insure compliance with the sanitary code."

Kelly-McGovern said it could not yet be determined when the remediation will be completed. "That will depend on when we get a report, the content of the report, and consultation with the school district," she said.

Parents, students, teachers and staff have complained about strange, nauseating odors in the facility for years. There have been allegations of long-term health problems, ranging from migraines to lung infections.

Effects of mercury vapor exposure can be severe, and symptoms may include emotional changes, such as mood swings, irritability, nervousness and excessive shyness, as well as insomnia, twitching, headaches, and poor performance on tests of mental function, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Last month, parents organized a sickout at the sixth- through eighth-grade school, which has about 660 students. They called for an independent environmental investigation and requested that their children be removed from the building.

Mercury vapor was detected in school district buildings in Amityville, Merrick and Miller Place last year, emanating from synthetic flooring in some buildings.

Following the reports, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed a bill banning new mercury flooring in schools and setting limits on exposure to the neurotoxin. The bill was sponsored by State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) and Assemb. Judy Griffin (D-Rockville Centre), and prohibited schools from installing additional levels of flooring on top of mercury-emitting surfaces that would conceal the old flooring.

The state Education Department requested schools last summer to perform an inventory of the flooring, which was poured from the 1960s to the 1990s. The state wanted to assess how widespread the issue was and provide information to districts across the state. The results have not yet been released.

With Joie Tyrrell

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