BROOKHAVEN - Residents and teachers in Brookhaven are calling for stepped-up air quality testing around the Brookhaven landfill after a cancer-causing substance was detected.

People who live and work near the 300-foot mountain of waste say it gives off a rancid, putrid smell, but their concerns are much more than scent-deep. Preliminary tests conducted this spring by the Department of Environmental Conservation at the Frank P. Long Intermediate School in Bellport found levels of benzene, a known carcinogen.

Environmentalists say the chemical appears to be linked to the landfill that looms just behind the school.

"This is not a nuisance issue of odor, this is a public health threat," says Adrienne Esposito, of Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

Parents who spoke with News 12 say they are frustrated and that the landfill has been a problem for quite some time. They are calling on the Town of Brookhaven to take action.

Theresa Palermo, a fourth-grade teacher who has worked in the Long building for the past 30 years, lost her left lung to cancer. She says her doctors were baffled because she never smoked.

"The only thing they could come up with at the time was it was caused by the environment," she says.

Teachers are working with their union to request that the state DEC begin comprehensive air quality tests to get a clearer picture of the situation. The teachers union has also requested more information on the air quality information uncovered in the spring tests, but so far the DEC has not released those details.

"Benzene is odorless. We don't know on the days that it is not smelling if there is benzene in the air," says teacher Trish Gallina. "We don't want to panic, but we are extremely worried for ourselves and our students."

In a statement, the state DEC said, "Under the direction of DEC and in response to public complaints about landfill odors and off-site dust episodes, the Town of Brookhaven is capping a portion of the Brookhaven landfill and conducting air monitoring for hydrogen sulfide and particulate matter.  DEC has also conducted its own monitoring; the landfill and vicinity was the subject of a community air monitoring effort in 2014 and DEC continues to monitor hydrogen sulfide levels in the community in response to odor complaints."

The statement continued, "The DEC will continue to investigate air quality in the area in order to identify potential sources of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and odors. The results of our future investigations will be discussed with the community and concerned citizens. "