The mother of 13-year-old Javien Coleman, who died of cancer last year, said his death was due to toxic air at his Bellport school, which is located near a landfill. NewsdayTV’s Cecilia Dowd reports. Credit: Newsday/James Carbone; Anthony Florio; Youtube SCCSD

A Patchogue mother whose 13-year-old son died last year of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma took the first step Monday toward a lawsuit against the South Country Central School District and Brookhaven Town, arguing the teen's death was caused by toxic air at the Bellport school he attended for two years.

The notices of claim — precursors to a lawsuit — blame the death of Javien Coleman on the district and the town for failing to shut down Frank P. Long Intermediate School for fourth- and fifth-graders about a mile south of the 192-acre Brookhaven landfill.

Concerns about toxic emissions and odors from the landfill date back more than a decade and have been the source of numerous public meetings, lawsuits and health studies. The district has rejected repeated efforts to close or move the school.

Javien's type of cancer is linked to exposure to benzene and TCE, two chemicals that tests show have been emitted from the landfill and have been found at elevated levels inside the school, said E. Christopher Murray, an attorney representing the Coleman family.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Lawyers representing the family of a 13-year-old boy from Patchogue who died last year of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, have taken a step toward filing a lawsuit against the South Country Central School District and Brookhaven Town.
  • The notices of claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, attribute Javien Coleman's death to the toxic air and odor at Frank P Long, a two-year intermediate school in Bellport he attended about a mile south of the 192-acre Brookhaven landfill.
  • Parents, teachers and staff at the school have complained for years that they were getting seriously ill from the landfill emissions but the districthas rejected repeated efforts to close or move the school.
Javier Coleman, 13, who died Oct. 26, 2022 from non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Javier Coleman, 13, who died Oct. 26, 2022 from non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Credit: Handout/Alejandra Villa Loarca

"This is an ongoing problem," Murray said at a news conference Monday in Uniondale with Javien's family and environmental advocates. "This has been a horrible result for both the students and the teachers. And today we're bringing a lawsuit to compensate this family, but also to bring attention and to have the school closed. Even if you're talking about just as a matter of precaution. The fact that you're exposing young children to these toxins — knowing that they exist, knowing that they're elevated levels at the school — is just unconscionable."

Town of Brookhaven spokesman Jack Krieger declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

South Country Superintendent Antonio Santana called Javien's death "extremely heartbreaking" and a "tragedy" but declined to comment on the pending lawsuit.

Nacole Hutley looking at a photo of her late son,...

Nacole Hutley looking at a photo of her late son, Javien Coleman, while he was in the hospital recovering from a bone marrow transplant. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Murray has two additional lawsuits against the town and district that have been in litigation for several years. Those cases are filed on behalf of 26 other students and school employees who also claim to have gotten seriously ill from the landfill emissions. The suit, which seeks unspecified damages, states that plaintiffs suffered ailments ranging from throat irritation to cancer.

Two claimants, Murray said, have died from their illnesses since 2021 — a school employee who worked in the cafeteria and a speech pathologist, both of whom were diagnosed with breast cancer.

Nacole Hutley, Javien's mother, said her son was a happy and healthy boy who loved video games and playing football and had no health problems until he started attending Frank P. Long in 2019.

Javien, she said, started to suffer from serious head and back aches, stomach pains and weight loss. Javien was diagnosed with lymphoma in October 2021 and died about a year later, even after receiving a bone-marrow transplant from his 17-year-old brother, Joseph Coleman.

Hutley said she only learned about the potential link between the landfill and illnesses at the school after Javien's diagnosis.

"The school should be shut down," Hutley said as she stood in front of an array of photos of Javien in football gear and another with him in the hospital. "They're jeopardizing a lot of kids. And not just the kids but the teachers and workers. They need to shut it down."

A notice of claim filed by a Patchogue mother blames...

A notice of claim filed by a Patchogue mother blames her son's death on toxic air inside Frank P. Intermediate School on Brookhaven. Credit: James Carbone

The landfill, which is slated to close in 2024, was opened by the state in the mid-1970s as a solid waste collection facility. The town took it over in the 1980s and limited waste collection to construction and demolition debris and incinerated trash from waste-to-energy plants.

In 2020, Brookhaven Town agreed to pay a nearly $250,000 fine and agree to perform better monitoring of noxious gases emanating from the landfill as part of a settlement with the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency for reported violations of the federal Clean Air Act.

A 2019 report by the State Health Department said 31 confirmed cancer diagnoses over 38 years among staff at the school did not appear to be an unusually high rate. The department's Cancer Surveillance Program sought to determine whether school employees developed cancer at a higher rate than normal. 

Murray called that report "meaningless," noting that it was limited to a small number of teachers and conducted over a short period of time.

Brookhaven officials said they've spent $20 million to contain odors from hydrogen sulfide and leachate at the landfill. Nonetheless, teachers, staff and students have complained for years that they were getting seriously ill from the landfill.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said the school would have closed years ago if it served a more affluent population.

"Odors are not just an irritant. They are not just a nuisance," Esposito said. "They are in fact a health hazard."

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