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Northport school officials to address air quality concerns

Northport Middle School in 2014. The K-wing of

Northport Middle School in 2014. The K-wing of Northport Middle School has been closed since spring. Credit: Ian J. Stark

Northport-East Northport school officials said they will start districtwide training and policy changes to respond to community concerns about air quality issues at Northport Middle School.

Superintendent Robert Banzer said at an Oct. 26 school board meeting that the district will be implementing the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Tools for Schools” program meant to improve air quality oversight across the district.

The K-wing of Northport Middle School has been closed since the spring, after strong gas odors led to the discovery and removal of petroleum-based materials from a warehouse beneath the school. Complaints about odors and fumes in the school date back 17 years, records show.

“I understand the anxiety that’s out there,” Banzer said. “I understand that in terms of trust, we’ve taken some steps back. But I also understand if we’re going to make changes we have to put systems in place that are sustainable. It doesn’t come easy and it doesn’t happen overnight, but ... we want a program that’s going to outlive any administration.”

District officials in April hired Ronkonkoma-based Enviroscience Consultants Inc., to conduct air quality testing. The tests detected 24 volatile organic compounds — found in many commonly used products such as nail polish or gasoline — in a classroom, including four at levels above the state Department of Health’s air quality guidelines, according to reports on the district’s website.

Newsday has reported that similar complaints dated to 2000 and 2001, when teachers filed more than 60 health and safety incident reports citing issues such as gas and mold odors, visible mold, and allergic reactions when entering classrooms.

Banzer said the district is taking action to provide the safest possible setting for students. To that end, he said the district is in the process of rehabilitating 46 vents at the school to ensure that all ventilation systems are operating correctly.

Officials also have toured each school in the district with principals, nurses and teacher representatives.

Banzer said that the school district had made efforts to incorporate the “Tools for Schools” program in the past, but said this time would be different.

“I want to, and plan to, make sure that we adopt and implement this program and carry out this program with fidelity,” he said.

Next steps will including training on air quality issues for teams that will include school principals, nurses and teacher representatives, and the establishing a districtwide indoor air-quality team.

Banzer said the training in best practices for safe air quality will be “rigorous,” and will apply to all custodial, maintenance and grounds staff.

He said the district will also conduct indoor air quality testing in every room of every school so officials have a starting point from which to monitor any changes or need for improvement.

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