Neighbors of the massive Brookhaven Town landfill and teachers who work in nearby schools have asked state officials to step up efforts to test air quality around the facility.
Residents of Brookhaven hamlet and school employees have blamed the 192-acre landfill on Horseblock Road for sickening odors that they say persist in the neighborhood, despite efforts to contain dust at the site.
Town officials have said foul odors also could emanate from other industrial sites in the area.
In a June 14 letter to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, community leaders and Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment called on the agency to require Brookhaven officials to implement a mandatory air quality monitoring program. Town officials began a state-approved voluntary program last year.
The four-page letter was signed by Brookhaven Fire Department officials, civic leaders and more than 70 teachers. Some teachers said students often come to school holding their hands over their faces because of stench.
“Whatever they’re doing, it’s not working,” Trish Gallina, 49, a 4th-grade teacher at Frank P. Long Intermediate School, said. “We need intensive air monitoring on the ground for an extended amount of time.”
The letter asked state officials to rescind a permit allowing the town to use ash “as a capping material to replace sand.”
A DEC spokesman did not reply to calls and an email seeking comment.
Matt Miner, solid waste commissioner for Brookhaven, said while ash is deposited at the landfill, it is not used as a capping material. He said the town uses a soil mixture to cap the landfill to control dust and odors, and community volunteers, including teachers, have been trained to collect air samples at their homes and schools.
“The DEC and town work together with the community,” Miner said. He said the town capped a 20-acre section of the landfill found to have hydrogen sulfite.
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said the existing testing program found traces of benzene, and she said a town consultant confirmed the carcinogen was linked to the landfill.
Miner, however, said he was unaware of tests showing benzene at the site.
Esposito said required testing would prove or disprove whether the landfill presents a health hazard.
“People have a right to know,” she said. “They’re living next to a giant, 300-foot mountain of waste.”
Joe Tortora, 31, a 5th-grade teacher at Frank P. Long who has helped to collect air samples, said many teachers are frustrated because obtaining test results from the DEC has been a struggle.
“It was like a battle to get the results from them,” Tortora said.
Gallina said she has considered requesting a transfer out of concern for her health, but she has chosen to stay at the school.
“I don’t want to leave until we get something done,” she said. “Somebody has to fight.”