MASSENA — Massena Central School officials are working with the state Department of Health and Department of Labor, as well as the district’s bargaining units, after union members requested environmental testing in buildings following the deaths of two staff members from cancer last year.
J.W. Leary Junior High School Band Director William D. Alderson died from stage 4 pancreatic cancer on June 12. Kevin H. McBath, who worked in the district’s Technology Department for 34 years, died from cancer on Dec. 3.
Superintendent Patrick Brady said the Massena Federation of Teachers and Massena Confederated School Employees’ Association had requested the environmental testing. The MCSEA represents clerical workers, teacher aides, nurses, food service workers, bus drivers, cleaners, custodians and maintenance workers.
“The district administration has been in consultation with our safety officials at the Jefferson-Lewis BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services), the New York state Department of Health and the New York state Department of Labor to effectively respond to these concerns. While the employee illnesses have tended to be at the junior high, request for testing was made for all school buildings to ensure there are no environmental issues which could cause health problems,” Mr. Brady said.
He said the district was committed to the safety and welfare of all students, faculty and staff as their top priority.
“For this reason, we have worked with union leadership and the Department of Health and Department of Labor to address their concerns. This includes a meeting we held on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020 with all parties to look at some possible environmental testing,” Mr. Brady said.
He said the Department of Health indicated that it was common for them to receive requests to test school buildings and other public areas, particularly when there seemed to have been a concentration of illnesses.
“Such occurrences naturally cause alarm and anxiety among staff. We understand that and it is the reason why we have taken these concerns seriously and brought health officials in for collaboration,” he said.
However, Mr. Brady added, “It is rare for the DOH to find direct links between school buildings and health issues because there are so many other factors which cause disease, such as family history, nutrition, stress, lifestyle and a variety of others. Accordingly, they have indicated that, unfortunately, we live in a world where four of 10 people will contract some form of cancer in their lifetime.”
He said they follow all applicable federal and state laws in maintaining the district’s buildings for the health and safety of students and staff. That includes a building condition survey that’s conducted by a certified architect every five year to identify areas that need to be upgraded. It also includes adhering to the appropriate handling of chemicals, removal of hazardous materials and proper air quality controls.
“We also have a highly trained and effective buildings and grounds staff that keep our buildings clean and well maintained,” Mr. Brady said. “Our upcoming capital improvement project, which will commence this summer, will go a long way to upgrade our building systems including indoor ventilation. All of this work is to ensure that Massena Central continues to have the highest quality learning and working environments.”