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Schumer calls on EPA to investigate Northport Middle School case

Northport Middle School will be closed for the

Northport Middle School will be closed for the rest of the school year. Credit: Ian J. Stark

Sen. Chuck Schumer plans Monday to call on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate potentially dangerous chemical compounds recently detected outside Northport Middle School.

The Northport-East Northport school district ordered the middle school closed last month for the remainder of the school year after an environmental firm found elevated levels of mercury in a cesspool and of benzene in soil around two septic systems outside the Middleville Road building.

Exposure to mercury can cause mood swings, irritability, insomnia, headaches and poor performance on tests of mental function, according to the EPA. Benzene has been associated with long-term health effects and diseases including cancer, aplastic anemia and excessive bleeding, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Our children’s and workers’ health is too important to risk, therefore I urge EPA perform a comprehensive site investigation and take whatever action necessary to address any contamination found," Schumer wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Andrew R. Wheeler. The senator will send the letter Monday, Schumer's staff told Newsday on Sunday.

The EPA on Sunday did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The discovery of the mercury and benzene led district officials to announce last month the middle school would close for the remainder of the year and that its 660 sixth, seventh and eighth graders would relocate to other schools.

"We realize that this is a substantial undertaking," Superintendent Rob Banzer wrote in an email to parents last month. "However, the Board of Education and I firmly believe it is in the best interest of our students and staff to relocate."

Schumer's appeal to the EPA comes as the New York State Department of Health conducts its own investigation into "cancer occurrence" in the school district after a health department review found a "statistically significant" higher rate of leukemia among the Northport High School graduating Class of 2016, Newsday has reported.

The school district has been at the center of health concerns for several years. At Northport Middle, there have been prolonged complaints of a stench that nauseates students, teachers and staff, as well as allegations of long-term health problems, ranging from migraines, nosebleeds, sinus and lung infections to general fatigue.

PW Grosser Consulting Inc., an environmental firm, detected elevated levels of mercury in a cesspool outside a classroom and elevated levels of benzene in soil samples from two septic systems on the southern and eastern sides of the school.

"I urge the EPA to utilize all of its available authority, as well as its considerable technical expertise, to quickly investigate and address the possible contamination," Schumer wrote.

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