At the Board of Ed.'s Oct 27 work session, the long-awaited discussion regarding the reopening of the Salem School as an elementary school was initiated. Facilities Committee Chair Nancy Cowles noted that for many months the committee has been engaged in attending meetings, reviewing numerous reports and studies, and interviewing various governmental agency representatives to gain some insight into the history of Salem and perceived problems. She pointed out, in her opening remarks, that many community members have expressed divergent opinions about the further or increased use of the building, which is located 660 feet from the edge of the L-4 landfill declared a superfund site in 1983, and the L-4 landfill, a bit farther east of L-5, which was closed by order of the Nassau County Board of Health in January, 1992. She reported that, in order to make a responsible decision about the range of options for the site, the committee believes it would be prudent for the board of education to investigate and attempt to answer all environmental concerns expressed by the community.
An invited guest, Matt Miner, deputy executive director of the TONH Solid Waste Management Authority, spoke to the methane gas problem at the site. He explained that as the garbage at the landfill degrades, it creates methane gas which in turn creates small explosions in the surrounding area.
However, he reassured the board and members of the audience that remediation measures that comply with all standards set by the appropriate and various regulatory agencies have been taken at the landfill, and reviewed these measures and also the current monitoring operations and plans.
The remediation included:
1- Rehabilitation of the existing perimeter gas collection system;
2- capping and closure of the land fill;
3- construction of groundwater treatment system
4- additional gas collection system along the north face of the landfill which will be constructed in the spring of 1999.
Mr. Miner also informed the audience that the landfill gas monitoring wells on the perimeter are tested for methane gas once a month and VOCs (volatile organic compounds) annually. He provided a list to the Port News of the VOCs the town is required to test for, as listed in the annual NYSDEC landfill stipulation gas sampling program, which read as follows: vinyl chloride, benzene, trichloroethylene, toluene, 1-1-2 trichloroethane, 1-1-1 trichloroethane, p & m xylenes, o-xylenes, methylene chloride, dichlorodifluoromethane and 1,2- dichloroethene (total).
Mr. Miner also told the paper that according to the test results, the level of VOCs has never gone above the threshold set by the state.
Ernie Lampert of the Department of Environmental Conservation also spoke at the meeting. He noted that the DEC acted in an advisory role to the Environmental Protection Agency on L-4, because it's designated a superfund site. On the L-5 site, the DEC acted as overseer and also is providing comments on the design for the closure of the l-5 landfill. He added that the Town of North Hempstead, as owner of the facility, is responsible for its operation and maintenance. The L-5 landfill is also regulated by New York State, but is not a superfund site.
Both experts, Mr. Miner and Mr. Lampert, acknowledged that the scope of their review did not include health issues. These are within the purview of the Department of Health, which was unable to send a representative to the meeting that night. Both experts in attendance did, however, assure the board that the remediation done at the landfill prevents the offsite migration, whether through the soil, groundwater system or air, of volatile organic compounds which are associated with potential health hazards. Both stressed that the landfill is in full compliance with all regulatory oversight.
School board member Dr. Roy Nelson pointed out, however, that the experts can only speak to the landfill site, not the Salem site and building, which has not been tested, since before the landfill was capped. (Although, some monitoring did take place because it was mentioned that the methane alarms never went off in the school.)
As its next move in relation to its consideration of the future use of the Salem School, the board decided to send out requests for proposals for an environmental consulting firm which, once received, will be reviewed by the Facilities Committee. The committee, whose members include Nancy Cowles, Dr. Roy Nelson and Dean Nardone, will then select a firm and recommend them to the board of education. The consultants charge will be to evaluate the environmental safety of the Salem building and site, reviewing all old data related to the landfill and the school. On that basis, they will recommend a battery of environmental tests, and then have the appropriate tests performed.
At this time, the board decided to also take and test comparable samples at another school in the district to allow a valid comparison. Being contemplated too is the testing of all of the facilities in the district at some time in the future.
In a phone conversation, Dr. Nelson remarked that the committee hopes to hire a firm with an individual on staff who specializes in studying the affects of toxic substances on small children.
Once the report is completed, it's expected that another public meeting will be held, and the issue revisited.
Reporting on a conversation with Rosemary Konatich of the CAC formed for the Landfill, Mrs. Cowles said that Ms. Konatich told her that there is probably more data about the PW landfill than any others, and that it was probably the most intensely monitored.
Ms. Konatich also mentioned that because it is part of an Environmental Data Network, the wells at the landfill should be monitored once a week, and that if a problem is found, there is an emergency contingency plan.
She also told Mrs. Cowles that she thinks it is possible that if something is discovered in the test results, it may be no correlation to the landfill, as there have been other problems in other parts of town from other sources (i.e. Munsey Cleaners).
Board member Dr. Roy Nelson pointed out that since the school was closed in 1985, other uses for it involving the use of toxic substances (i.e. preparing for the Gambol and workshops involving paint) may have affected its environmental safety, even though safety precautions were taken.
Resident Tony Leone commented that the same tests performed at Salem should be performed uniformly in all schools in the district. "All our children are important," he said.
Resident Ellen McCulloh pointed out that the New York State EPA standards being used to declare the building safe are based on a full grown adult male. She asked that the standard for testing in the study commissioned by the BOE be based on small children. The board agreed with her comment.
Board member Dean Nardone feels that one real problem with opening the Salem School is the perception that the site poses a potential health problem for the youngsters, which he suggested is not borne out in the existing studies.
He noted that he and his young family live nearby and asked Mr. Miner, what concerns he would have if he were in the same situation. Mr. Miner replied that he'd ask for continued monitoring of the site with assurances that testing is being performed regularly. He would also want to make sure that the various oversight agencies continue their job and that a contingency plan is in effect in case of an emergency.
A Salem resident, Pat Van Dusen, who has lived a few hundred feet from the landfill for the past 18 years and is considered by many to be a public watchdog on many aspects of the landfill, was also invited to the meeting to share the knowledge she's gained over the years Ms. Van Dusen is also one of the original members of the CAC formed to study the landfill issue. In her informed opinion, she said that in terms of measures taken to rehabilitate the site, "we're wearing belts and suspenders."
She also clarified a point regarding testing for VOCs. While this is currently done annually, in the beginning when they first began the rehabilitation process, it was done more frequently. Testing tapered off, she said, as the tests consistently came back below acceptable levels.