Thirteen-year-old Javien Coleman, a former student of South Country School District’s Frank P. Long Intermediate School, died last year of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Earlier this month, his mother, Nacole Hutley, and her attorneys announced a lawsuit filed against the school district and Brookhaven Town, claiming the school’s poor air quality from the neighboring landfill caused his illness.
According to E. Christopher Murray, a Uniondale-based Ruskin Moscou Faltischek attorney representing the family, Coleman’s type of cancer is caused by exposure to benzene and TCE.
Those two chemicals, Murray said, have been proven through testing to be emitted from the landfill, with elevated levels inside the school.
Javien’s mother, Hutley, said her son loved school, loved sports, and loved to play video games. She said he didn’t have any health problems until he began attending the school in 2019. At that time, she said, he began suffering headaches, stomach problems, and weight loss. He was diagnosed in 2021 and died a year later, even after receiving a bone-marrow a transplant from his 17-year-old brother, Joseph.
“He loved school, always wanted to go,” she said. “He also loved sports and played football and basketball. He was an active, funny little kid.”
Aside from seeking damages, she hopes the case will push the school to close.
“I am surprised people are still sending their kids there,” she added.
The school has been a point of community complaints referencing odors and emissions, in an effort to have the school shut down. There have been several lawsuits filed over the years after multiple deaths, including two teachers. A health study was done at the school and a documentary called “Sick School” was released.
This most recent lawsuit, according to Murray, is a new proceeding with a new plaintiff. It currently is pending and going to discovery, with a motion to dismiss that was denied. Both the school district and town have 90 days for examination. Murray said they hope to see two things come from the litigation: one, compensation for the damages; and two, pressure from the public to force the school district to close the school.
In 2019, the New York State Health Department released a study that deemed the cancers found in teachers at Frank P. Long Intermediate School “do not appear unusual.” The study looked at 31 people with diagnoses of cancer, some of whom had multiple tumors. The earliest date of diagnosis was in 1980, and the latest was in 2017. But 80 percent of the cancers were diagnosed after 2000. Thirteen different types of cancer were noted in the study. Breast cancer was the most common, with 11 cases. Others were colorectal, lung, endometrium, malignant melanoma of the skin, bladder, ovarian, and other types, according to the report. Six people could not be confirmed as being diagnosed with a cancer.
The report compared the statistics provided by the cancer diagnoses with the expected rate of cancer development for employees at the school, using information provided by the district. It was calculated that 29.9 cases would be expected. Twenty-two cancers were actually confirmed among comparable employees, according to the findings. The department found that the differences in statistics were not significant.
“For any community, especially learning communities such as a school district, the loss of a child is extremely heartbreaking. The passing of Javien Coleman is a tragedy,” said superintendent of South Country Schools, Antonio Santana. “We offer condolences again to all of the family and friends affected by his untimely passing.”
However, in regard to the pending litigation, Santana said, unfortunately, the district and the board of education cannot comment at this time. Brookhaven Town officials also denied to comment, referencing that they do not comment on matters of pending litigation.
The landfill, according to the town, is slated to close in 2024 and has since been capped in phases. In 2020, the town began performing better monitoring of the gases.