Officials call for action in wake of report on Grumman site

June 24, 2017
Author: 
Emily C. Dooley
Publication: 
Newsday

Local and federal officials Friday called on the state, the U.S. Navy and Northrop Grumman to release documents relating to the handling of all radioactive materials at a former research, testing and manufacturing facility in Bethpage.

Separately, the Navy released a report about contamination associated with those Bethpage operations and said full containment of groundwater plumes emanating from there was not feasible and likely unnecessary.

The calls for action came after Newsday reported late this week that Grumman Aerospace Corp. — now Northrop Grumman — handled more than three dozen forms of radioactive materials at its site in Bethpage between 1960 and 2015.

The information was included in a document filed with the state Department of Environmental Conservation in October and obtained by Newsday under the Freedom of Information Law.

It comes weeks after Bethpage High School officials reported that monitoring wells on campus had detected elevated levels of radium in groundwater. The campus is across the street from a former Grumman property subject to an intense cleanup plan.

The document, a report the state had demanded and posted Friday after publication of Newsday’s story, also maintained there was no evidence radioactive materials used on the Grumman site would lead to radium contamination in water supplies.

The Newsday report produced a storm of criticism among local officials.

“How is it possible that after all this time, 40 years, we are still uncovering new information?” Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) said. “The responsible parties and the environmental agencies need to share 100 percent of relevant data now.”

Late Thursday, Suozzi sent letters to Navy and Northrop Grumman asking them to turn over to DEC documents, test results and other materials.

The Navy and Grumman researched, tested and manufactured aviation and space exploration vehicles on more than 600 acres in Bethpage beginning in the 1930s. Contamination was discovered in 1940s and the site was added to the state Superfund list in 1983. Several cleanup plans are focused on removing contaminated soil and groundwater, some of which has spread 3 miles.

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said Thursday the state has asked Northrop Grumman for more information and he was going to fact-check everything supplied. “We will continue to hold Northrop Grumman accountable,” the agency said.

Northrop Grumman has not responded to Newsday’s requests for comment.

State Sen. John E. Brooks (D-Seaford) called on the DEC to do an independent investigation.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, and Nassau legislators Rose Marie Walker and Laura Schaefer, also sent Seggos a letter Friday asking the state to release all documents about use, storage and disposal of radioactive materials.

And at a new conference Friday, Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino called the revelation sobering and renewed his call to contain and remove plume contaminants.

Local officials have said the plumes put drinking water supplies of 250,000 people at risk.

The Navy report is the result of Sen. Chuck Schumer placing a provision in the 2016 Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act requiring the Navy to report to Congress annually about the plumes.

“The more information we have the better in the effort to stem the flow of this toxic plume,” the New York Democrat said Friday.

The report says the plumes are large, deep, fragmented, complex and continue to evolve. Full containment would waste water, be cost prohibitive and could damage Long Island’s aquifer, it adds. Current treatment methods were removing contaminated water, and the contaminants were becoming diluted, plus it was unclear if water supply wells down-gradient would be “impacted by the plumes in the future,” according to the report.

Bethpage Water District Superintendent Mike Boufis said he was not surprised by the Navy’s conclusion, one that has been said before by the defense agency. “The chance of catching it all is probably too far gone but I think [the Navy is] basing that decision purely on financials rather than scientific data,” he said.

In February, DEC announced it had launched a study to look at containing the plume and that the investigation would involve water testing, fieldwork and computer modeling. As part of that study, wells will be drilled this summer along the leading edge of the plume.

“The U.S. Navy report is unfortunate but not surprising given their track record of trying to shirk its responsibility,” Seggos said.