Long Island school closed over chemical fears

Alexa Valentino graduated from Northport Middle School in Suffolk County two years ago. She remembers frequently feeling sick and leaving early.

"The next day after a rainy day, not only was the building flooding and disgusting but the smell, I don't even know how to explain it," Valentino said. "Just a rotten smell."

Many of her classes were held in the G-wing, an area of the school that's been closed off to students and staff since mid-December amidst the discovery of high levels of mercury found outside the classrooms in a leaching pool.

But additional septic tanks recently tested positive for benzene, a potentially dangerous chemical compound that could cause headaches, confusion and even cancer.

Over the weekend, the district announced the relocation of students and staff for the rest of the year.

John Kobel taught science and technology at the school for more than 20 years. He now has heavy metal poisoning, skin and prostate cancer, and is relying on medication to stay alive.

"I take five in the morning, five at night," he said. "I'm on two inhalers and I'm on allergy shots."

Classes will be canceled for Northport Middle School on Tuesday and Wednesday. In a letter to the district, the superintendent said the move is in the best interest of the students and staff.


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Local leaders are calling on the state to assist with emergency funding to help with the transition.

"We can always look back but the more important thing now is to make sure our children, students, faculty are safe and they're getting the education that they really need," state Sen. Jim Gaughran said.

Parent Nicole Mulholland said it will be a trying transition.

"At first it was 'Yay there's no school for a few days,' then it sets in, like my school is gone, who will I be with? What friends will I be with? I'm going to a new place," she said. "This is scary. There's nothing easy about this process."

Parents who have fought to close the school plan to get together to provide emotional support to children and teachers throughout the week. They will also be looking into a feasibility study to see if reopening the school is realistic.