Briarcliff School Leader Responds To Claims Cancer Linked To Fields

BRAIRCLIFF MANOR, N.Y. – Briarcliff Manor School District officials responded publicly for the first time to some residents' claims that a possible cancer cluster is linked to contaminated fields at the Briarcliff High School and Middle School.

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 story notes that the families of at least 10 other students believe that the schools' contaminated playing fields led to the students contracting various cancers.

School Board President Sal Maglietta declined to comment on the specifics of the articles but said it is “a tragic situation in our town where several children have been stricken by cancer.”

“Your heart has to go out to all of those who have been affected, not by the fields, but by having cancer," Maglietta said.  "I don’t know what the cause of cancer is. Cancer could come from lots of causes. It is very difficult to bring cause and effect to this situation.”

In 1999 state Department of Environmental Conservation inspectors found the softball and practice fields to be contaminated and issued a violation to the school district. The fields became contaminated in 1998 in a fill-for-fields deal in which Whitney Trucking of Yonkers promised to fill the fields with clean material but reportedly deposited about 100,000 cubic yards of construction debris that did not meet DEC requirements, according to school officials.

“They pulled the wool over our eyes,” Maglietta said Thursday. “It became apparent to us when the DEC came to look at the fields that we had a problem. The problem was that it was construction and demolition debris, which is not considered the appropriate fill.”

The Briarcliff Board of Education could approve investigation-company HDR’s official remediation action plan during its regular meeting Tuesday. If approved, the plan would be submitted to the DEC and the state Department of Health. The DEC would ultimately need to approve the plan before construction and student use could resume.

“The board is working very hard to remediate and bring this situation to a close that will allow people to understand that we did what was most prudent and best for the community,” Maglietta said in a telephone interview Thursday. “No one in my mind can provide an answer or a reason that could give comfort to parents who have lost their children who have been stricken by different forms of cancer.”

Maglietta said it was difficult to piece together what occurred prior to the time he joined the board in 2010.

“After the school district signed a consent order to remediate the situation, that remediation plan never got officially closed out. Why? I can’t piece that together based on my thorough review of the documentation,” Maglietta said. “It should be noted that from late 2003, had that consent order remained outstanding, the DEC never contacted the school district. I’m not saying that should give anyone comfort, but that’s a fact that we were never contacted.”

In 2010, former board members became aware of the outstanding consent order, Maglietta said, and the board decided to close the fields and notify the DEC. Since that time, Maglietta said the district has been “very prudent and thorough” in following a process to remediate the fields.

“Prior to that, in my opinion, I don’t think it was bad faith by anybody but I think something broke down in the process,” he said. “The unfortunate news is that what could have been a simple matter has become quite an issue for our district. But we will move forward from this.” 

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