Roger Inesti’s immune system used to be strong — he said he would only get a cold once every three to five years.
But after working at 1111 Marcus Ave. in New Hyde Park as a consultant for DealerTrack between 2010 and 2012, things began to change.
He said he didn’t feel entirely right. Colds began to come every few months. Later, a growth developed in 2015, one he said he didn’t think was serious.
But thyroid cancer was diagnosed in May 2017. Inesti’s doctor asked him then if he had been around any industrial chemicals.
“There were some industrial things coming out of the ground and I said ‘maybe that has something to do with it,’” Inesti said in an interview.
Inesti said he thinks exposure to toxic chemicals in the air like trichloroethene, dichloroethene, tetrachloroethene and Freon 113 — each of which is considered a carcinogen — may have led to the development of his cancer.
He said he had gathered between 100 and 200 pages of research, until his doctor said stress could worsen his condition.
Those chemicals are the primary contaminants in the ground at the Lake Success office complex where Inesti worked. The defense contractor Sperry used the building for manufacturing and dumped degreasers and other industrial solvents into underground tanks that leaked into the groundwater and soil.
Lockheed Martin, the defense company, is leading a state-mandated cleanup of the property. The firm ceased operations there in 1998 and sold the property in 2000.
R. Stan Phillips, the head of environmental remediation for Lockheed Martin, denied a connection to Inesti’s cancer.
Phillips said the company’s analyses have shown that levels of those chemicals inside the building have always been below thresholds set by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health.
He also said that the state guidelines are “very conservative” and found that nearly all of their indoor sampling was at safe levels.
1111 Marcus Ave. is the origin of a massive groundwater plume, which contains volatile organic compounds like dichloroethene, trichloroethene and tetrachloroethene.
In 2007, Lockheed Martin began sampling to evaluate if the chemicals were present in the air inside the building. The company said 40 to 60 percent of some vapor concentrations beneath the building’s concrete foundation were above what was acceptable for the Department of Health, meaning they needed to mitigate that area.
Between 2010 and 2012, Lockheed Martin installed two temporary mitigation systems operating in the east end of the building. Lockheed Martin said these systems operated only in areas where there were higher concentrations of toxic vapors in the air.
Inesti said that while working, near the entrance of the building, there was a machine with a gas meter, valves and pipes that went into the ground a few feet from him. Phillips said that he might have been at one of the extraction points, which are tied to the mitigation system via piping.
Inesti also noted that he and his colleagues received memos that Lockheed Martin would be doing excavation work and that fumes could leak up through the building.
“Throughout all my reading, they were saying that the levels we were subject to would not cause cancer or anything,” Inesti said.
But he said that it was daily and consistent exposure and that at that point, “You can’t say, ‘Oh, it’s a comfortable level.’ If it’s every day for a couple of years, it’s no longer comfortable.”
Terry Lynam, a spokesman for Northwell Health, which occupies about 450,000 square feet of the office building, said the building has a very good air quality system and that vapor levels were significantly less than the accepted outdoor levels.
“There’s no indication at all, regardless of where you are in that building, that you’re in danger,” Lynam said.
Still, Inesti said that he feels very strongly that his cancer diagnosis has something to do with the industrial chemicals and implored the people he worked with to get themselves checked. After all, he said, he did not show obvious signs of health issues.
Lockheed Martin finished installation of a sub-slab depressurization system underneath the building in 2013. It acts as a slight vacuum beneath the building to prevent fumes from potentially rising through any cracks in the building.
R. Stan Phillips, Lockheed Martin’s head of environmental remediation, said it is unlikely anyone would experience hazardous exposure – then or now.
“I would expect that he would not see any exposure [above] the DOH guideline,” Phillips said in an interview.
Noah Manskar contributed reporting.