As remediation of areas contaminated with carcinogens at Northport Middle School gets underway, Superintendent Robert Banzer said they would consider reopening the building before the school year ends, a reversal of his original call to keep it shuttered through the academic year.
“We’ve received many, many inquiries, letters, phone calls, conversations asking us to reconsider reopening before the end of the year,” Banzer said at a board of education meeting Thursday. “Yes, we would consider that.”
Banzer called for the middle school closure in January after PW Grosser Consulting Inc., the district’s outside environmental firm, reported high levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, in two septic tanks. One tank was connected to the kitchen and the other to the gymnasium.
The firm also had found elevated levels of mercury in cesspools outside the Middleville Road building, adjacent to the science classrooms.
About 660 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students were moved to other schools in the Northport-East Northport district, upending transportation and classroom schedules. Parents and students in favor and against the decision to keep the school closed through the end of the academic year have attended school board meetings for weeks to express their grievances.
“Just like in the decision to close the school, facts will rule the day in terms of the decision-making regarding this situation,” Banzer said. A judgment on whether to reopen the school would come after a review of the remediation work and subsequent sampling, he said.
The school board passed a resolution at the meeting that authorized remediation to begin Monday.
School officials said the state Department of Health would test the environmental firm's samples of the remediated areas and sign off on the work. Remediation, sampling and state approvals will take up to a month, officials said.
The findings of carcinogens at the middle school came as the state health department began to investigate a statistically significant high rate of leukemia among the Northport High School Class of 2016, Newsday reported.
For years, the middle school had been subject of complaints of a nauseating smells and long-term health problems, including migraines, lung infections and fatigue.
Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declined to investigate the contamination at the middle school, a response to calls from Sen. Chuck Schumer for federal involvement. The agency said it would review findings of the study done by PW Grosser Consulting Inc.
“The efforts already conducted in addition to the work planned by the school district and PWGC is equivalent to the work that would be performed by EPA as part of a new site investigation," EPA regional administrator Peter Lopez said in a letter to Schumer.
Banzer said if the middle school reopened and some parents were uncomfortable sending their kids, he would consider sending those students to East Northport Middle School, the district's other middle school.