A group of residents and teachers who live or work near the Brookhaven Town landfill filed notices of claim against the town Thursday, alleging that the town has not done enough to protect residents from the landfill's odors and emissions.
The 24 plaintiffs are seeking undisclosed monetary damages related to loss of property value and medical bills. In 24 separate notices, the plaintiffs accuse the town of "derilection of duties" in maintaining the landfill. The plaintiffs include Bellport homeowners and teachers and parents at Frank P. Long Intermediate School in Bellport — located about a mile away from the landfill — who have long complained that the landfill is the cause of smells, debris, and health concerns, including what they say is a high rate of cancer among teachers.
The town has 90 days to respond to the notices or the group will move forward with a lawsuit, according to attorney E. Christopher Murray, of Ruskin Moscou Faltischek PC in Uniondale, who is representing the plaintiffs.
Town officials dispute claims of a contaminated environment. In a statement Thursday, officials said that ongoing federal and state testing found the air quality around the landfill to be safe.
"Brookhaven Town has a long history of monitoring and air testing at the landfill by federal and state authorities and working together with community groups, environmental organizations and the school district," town spokesman Jack Krieger said in a statement. "The town also operates the landfill under a permit issued by the [state Department of Environmental Conservation], who monitor the facility around the clock. As a result of the monitoring and testing, it has been determined by the NYSDEC that the issues claimed are not caused by the landfill.”
The plaintiffs say homeowners cannot open their windows or be outside without experiencing strong odors, and they link landfill emissions to 35 cancer diagnoses among teachers there since 1998, Murray said.
“It’s been a never-ending saga of diminished quality of life, of health concerns and health impacts,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, which worked with residents for years trying to get the town to take action. “This is our action of last resort. It’s the only choice left.”
Brookhaven Town landfill, a 192-acre site on Horseblock Road in Yaphank, opened in 1975. Area residents and students and staff at nearby Frank P. Long Intermediate School have for years complained of foul odors, headaches and illnesses as serious as cancer. The school serves 700 fourth- and fifth-graders and employs more than 100 faculty members.
In 2017, teachers and community members called to close the school. District officials opted to keep it open after a consulting firm's environmental review showed the building was "free of elevated levels of contaminants." At the time, the state Department of Health said it would review the complaints.
The town is expected to close the landfill in seven years, when it will have reached capacity. Under current conditions, more than 60 percent of the landfill is covered and officials said gas collection wells are used to control odors.
But plaintiffs said Thursday they're not satisfied with the measures taken so far and fear future problems.
Murray said they believe the illnesses are linked to the landfill because the number of diagnoses among school staff "are so far exceeding what would be expected that there's really only one explanation." Murray said some of the more serious claims could seek millions of dollars in damages if left unresolved.