School officials for Northport Middle School have failed to provide a safe environment for their students and faculty. Citing serious health concerns, parents of students who attend the school are demanding that the school fully remediate the source of toxic exposures found last year.
The middle school, which houses approximately 750 students, has closed its school’s K wing for the entire 2017-2018 academic year after strong odors detected by teachers and students led officials to report volatile organic compound (“VOC”) materials being stored in a 6,800 square-foot warehouse below part of the school.
VOCs are often compounds of petroleum fuels, hydraulic fluids, paint thinners, and dry cleaning agents. Many of these compounds are known carcinogens that can also cause severe central nervous system failure by repeated exposure
In April 2017, district officials hired an environmental consulting firm to conduct air-quality tests. The results were alarming. It found the presence 24 VOCs in a classroom, including four at elevated levels above the New York State Department of Health air quality guidelines.
Students and teachers were asked to leave the wing last April, but were not told why by school officials. These officials also waited more than a month after the first reports of the odor were made by a teacher in K-wing. Robert Banzer, the school superintendent admitted that a “classroom sits on top of a warehouse where those chemicals were stored.” He further conceded, “[i]n hindsight, it should have gone to the parents sooner.”
This is not the first incident that students and parents complained about the unusual smell. Back in the early 2000s, air quality concerns at the middle school led to more than 60 teacher health and safety reports describing gas, chemical and mold smells throughout the school. These complaints included:
- There is an odor in [room] K-74 that makes me sick to my stomach and gives me a bad headache. Since I have been working in the building, my face gets very red and I feel as if I am going to pass out. It happens at least once a day.
- Suddenly there was an extremely pungent smell of gas. The students commented on the smell and . . . I immediately got a headache from the odor.
- I suddenly felt weak and dizzy. [A staff member] told me I was very flushed and . . . to see a nurse. I did immediately. I had trouble focusing and comprehending what she was saying.
Parents understandably have demanded that the district provide a full accounting of past issues with air quality at the school. Yet, school officials refuse to undertake any long-term study to track potential health effects in teachers and students. Nor has a complete and satisfactory remediation been performed to alleviate the parents’ concerns.
Still, the students and teachers have been housed in the school throughout the entire academic year.