Northport-East Northport schools Superintendent Robert Banzer assured parents in a letter this week that toxic chemicals had not reached the groundwater at Northport Middle School, where high levels of mercury and benzene were recently detected in the sanitary systems.
The letter sent home on Thursday was to inform parents that remediation at the Middleville Road school was underway and that an investigative data report from the district’s environmental firm, P.W. Grosser Consulting, had been reviewed by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services.
“In the past the department of health services has worked with the school district to remediate a leaching pool at the Northport Middle School, in accordance with the Suffolk County Sanitary Code,” read a notice on the health services department website. “Once results from this recent sampling are available, the department will work similarly with the school district to ensure compliance with the county sanitary code.”
The county health services department did not immediately return calls for comment.
Though remediation has started, PWGC has not completed a “full comprehensive study,” which is expected “in the next few weeks,” Banzer said, adding that the study will be presented to the community.
The middle school was bustling with about 660 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students, up until mid-January, when the environmental firm detected high levels of mercury and benzene. The building has since been closed to students.
The firm had reported elevated levels of mercury in cesspools outside the building, adjacent to the science classrooms, as well as high levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, in two septic tanks, one connected to the kitchen and the other to the gymnasium.
There was fear among the middle school community that the toxic chemicals had been in the water, but Banzer wrote, “no mercury has been detected deeper than 18 feet below ground. This means that it did not migrate to the groundwater, which is approximately 110 feet below ground.”
Though initially the superintendent called for the building to be closed to students through the academic year, Banzer said earlier this month that he would consider reopening before then after a review of the remediation work and subsequent sampling.
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 the subject of complaints of nauseating smells and long-term health problems, including migraines, lung infections and fatigue.
Remediation work, which can take up to three weeks, will “simply consist of pumping out the ‘contaminated’ sludge or liquid from the septic tanks and leaching pools,” Banzer wrote in the letter this week. “At that point, the industrial waste transporter, licensed and approved by the state, will remove the waste.”
The county health services department will be on site for sampling after the remediation work is completed “to ensure that it was effective,” Banzer said. He added that the county would make sure contaminated soil was removed “to the fullest extent feasible” and that sampling would be taken of the remaining soil.