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Northport Middle School wing remains shut for air-quality testing

Northport Middle School in Northport on Dec. 27,

Northport Middle School in Northport on Dec. 27, 2014. Credit: Ian J. Stark

A wing of Northport Middle School will remain closed through the 2017-18 school year while further research and cautionary air-quality testing is conducted, Northport-East Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer announced late Wednesday.

The decision follows the discovery and removal earlier this year of petroleum-based materials from a warehouse below the K-wing of the school after several teachers smelled fumes and submitted health and safety complaints.

The materials were found in late April. At the time, four of the 24 volatile organic chemicals were at levels above the state Department of Health’s air quality guidelines.

“We have an opportunity here,” Banzer said at a community forum Wednesday night at the middle school. “Obviously this was not our best moment by any stretch of the imagination, so it’s an opportunity to make systemic changes and make things right.”

New test results released Wednesday revealed that no volatile organic compounds — found in many commonly used products such as nail polish and gasoline — were detected at levels above state guidelines.

Despite that, Banzer said the district wants to do more research — including having an architect to look at the K-wing of the building — as officials consider the next steps.

The issue requires “thoughtful consideration,” he said.

Banzer also said that a teacher first complained about fumes in the K-wing in 2011, although he said the district received no complaints between September 2011 until the most recent complaints this year. Banzer said officials believed they resolved the incident from 2011.

The teacher reported that “gas is venting into classroom. Smell is making me feel dizzy and sick,” according to a Sept. 20, 2011, health and safety report obtained by Newsday.

Another teacher submitted the same type of report on April 25, reporting “a persistent smell in K-wing that has been described as smelling like home heating oil, gas, paint thinner, etc.”

Several of 70 people in attendance Wednesday raised concerns about the potential harm posed by the fumes as well as a recent incident in which a water fountain at the middle school was mistakenly supplied by a rubber garden hose for 10 school days.

“Water from fountain ... tasted like a rubber hose,” according to another health and safety report dated May 23, 2017.

Preliminary tests showed the water quality met drinking water standards except for iron levels, which were slightly above the standard, Banzer said. Some parents objected to the fact that testing was performed on the water as it is now — not when it was connected to the hose.

Douglas J. Feldman, a principal public health engineer with the Suffolk County Office of Water Resources, said at the forum that it would be against protocol to reconnect the hose for a test because it could introduce contaminants into the potable water supply. He also said testing methods didn’t allow for the hose itself to be tested.

“That seems kind of absurd,” said Jennifer Thompson, a former school board member. “That contamination was already introduced into the system and the kids were already drinking out of that fountain. So, we as parents, really have no idea what [our children were] exposed to.”

The district is still awaiting final water test results on metal levels from the tap that temporarily supplied the water fountain through a hose, officials said.

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