BRIARCLIFF MANOR, N.Y. – The Briarcliff Manor Board of Education unanimously approved a remediation plan Tuesday night to cover the contaminated playing fields outside Briarcliff High School.
The board voted 4 to 0 during its regular meeting to allow investigation company HDR’s $1.9 million remediation plan to be sent to the state departments of Environmental Conservation and Health. Board member Michael Haberman was absent from the meeting. The plan includes using a natural turf cap to cover the school district’s practice and softball fields, which the board approved earlier this year. The DEC would ultimately need to approve the plan before construction and student use could resume.
Board President Sal Maglietta said the board came up with the plan to comply with a DEC regulation to submit a remediation plan, not because the fields presented an environmental concern.
“This is to get this process started,” Maglietta said following the vote. "There are so many elements of this plan that the DEC and Department of Health have to look at. We're moving the process forward, but we will take the time to step back as we suggested today, and we view that as a very important part of the process."
Briarcliff Manor Union Free School District officials responded publicly last week for the first time to some residents' claims that a possible cancer cluster is linked to the contaminated fields. A series of recent articles addressed the cases of former students Nicholas Birch, Demetri Demeropoulos and Nicholas Mazzilli, whose families have notified the district that they intend to sue. Birch died of a brain tumor in February at the age of 12, and Demeropoulos died in 2010 at 18, while Mazzilli has recovered. The stories noted that the families of at least 10 other students believe that the schools' contaminated playing fields led to the students' contracting various cancers.
A few residents expressed concern during Tuesday night’s meeting that the fields could be unsafe, even after the remediation, without complete excavation of the contaminated fill material.
“I am one thousand percent adamantly against anything other than all of this being removed and replaced with other soil,” resident Patrick Poggi said during the meeting. “If this was any of our backyards, we wouldn’t look to cap our backyards, we would look to get the trash out.”
DEC inspectors found the softball field and practice field to be contaminated with "nonexempt" material in 1999 and issued a violation to the school district. The fields became contaminated in 1998 when Whitney Trucking reportedly deposited about 100,000 cubic yards of fill that did not meet DEC requirements. The board chose to close the fields in 2010, without a request from the DEC, board members said Tuesday.
HDR representative Michael Musso reiterated Tuesday night that the sampling conducted on the fields did not show an environmental concern that exceeded state regulations on volatile organic compounds. He recommended covering the fields with natural turf as opposed to creating an impermeable barrier.
“We found essentially no VOCs,” Musso said, referring to volatile organic compounds. “They were well below the limits.”
Maglietta said the initial choice to use a natural turf cover was not made to avoid spending $18 million on an impermeable cap. He said the board would continue to analyze further options at a later meeting.
“The driver has to be the best option for this community,” Maglietta said. “Whatever is the right option, regardless of the cost, is the right option. … We should not stop the process to engage the DEC and Department of Health.”