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Teachers Fear Nearby Landfill Is Behind Rash Of Cancer Cases At Brookhaven School

BROOKHAVEN, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Students and teachers on Long Island have been falling ill, and some are demanding that their school be shuttered.

The school in Bellport stands next to a massive landfill that's been the source of odor complaints for years.

"The kids have problems with the breathing, our eyes are irritated constantly, I have chronic dizziness," 5th grade teacher Allison Schelin told CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff.

Teachers who work at Frank P Long Intermediate School cited nearly identical ailments. The school sits in the shadow of the massive Brookhaven town landfill.

"Do I want this school shut? No! Should it be shut? Yes," said 5th grade teacher Trish Gallina.

For years their odor complaints prompted air testing with no definitive results, but teachers said their numbers add up.

"Since 1997, we have 32 people diagnosed with cancer, 11 have passed away," Gallina said.

They compared that to a similar sized school elsewhere in the district.

"They don't have even half the amount of illness we have in our building," Gallina said.

Their pleas to shutter the school have been getting action. On Wednesday night, school board members asked administrators to start looking into options as to where else classes could be held.

It's a step in the right direction said one parent whose 10-year-old is chronically sick.

"He had unexplained rashes, sinus, dizzyness, itchy eyes," Caroline Wilkinson said.

The town of Brookhaven has long claimed any stench could be coming from somewhere else.

"DEC has been closely monitoring the Town of Brookhaven Landfill for the past two years. In 2015, in response to community complaints, DEC required the town to perform an assessment of the site and to determine if the landfill was the cause of the odor episodes in the surrounding community.  Results showed that odor episodes can be fingerprinted to the landfill. While the town has taken corrective actions to remediate many of these problem areas, DEC continued monitoring the landfill and launch an additional investigation in June 2016.  The results showed no release of VOCs, but high readings of hydrogen sulfide around the site. DEC has required the town to hire an odor remediation expert to address the remaining sources of odors. DEC will also be installing Apptek Low Range OdaLog technology at two locations in the surrounding community to continuously monitor hydrogen sulfide. This continuous monitoring will assist DEC in our assessment of the effectiveness of the corrective action plan being implemented by the town," Jack Krieger said.

The DEC will launch continual monitoring in the coming weeks.

"I fear for myself, I fear for my colleagues, I fear for my students," 5th grade teacher Mary Pettit said.

Teachers said only during summer recess can they breathe easier.

"Change has to happen now, not six months from now. We can't walk into this building come September," Schelin said.

The South Country School District did not respond to requests for comment. The school has 68 teachers, many of whom have worked in the shadow of the landfill for decades.

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