A massive toxic plume in the Nassau County Hamlet of Bethpage has been expanding beneath for years, sickening residents who were unaware of the threat. A park within the town, used for swimming and playing sports, was once owned by the defense giant Northrop Grumman. Grumman used the land to dispose of toxic waste created by its manufacturing operations but turned it over to the Town of Oyster Bay in 1962 when the site was no longer of use. Independent soil tests have revealed that the park’s soil was contaminated with toxic chemicals known to cause cancer including: TCE, PCBs, chromium and arsenic. Even more dangerous, new reports suggest dozens of radioactive isotopes like radium, uranium, tritium and polonium were handled by the military contractor.
Nearly a quarter of a million Nassau residents rely on a nearby sole-source aquifer that might be threatened by radioactive contamination from the site. In 2013, the Bethpage Water District shut down a well because of elevated radium levels.
In recent months, as these troubling results have come into the public eye, state and federal elected officials have started to notice and act. State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Segos has taken a more aggressive tact against Grumman, which is notoriously uncooperative, by rolling out both field work and computer data work, lab work to characterize not only where the plume is, but how it can be most efficiently remediated. The state is paying for the study out of a state super fund.
Joining this chorus is Senator Schumer, who recently met with Secretary of Defense James Mattis to investigate whether or not radioactive materials were used by the Navy at the former plant. Reports suggest that the conversation was productive. Secretary Mattis has promised to look into the matter and follow up with Senator Schumer. Along those lines, Representatives Thomas Suozzi and Peter King have worked together to secure passage of an amendment that adds an additional $42 million to the money the Navy uses for remediation nationwide. Both Suozzi and Schumer are working with the Department of Defense to move the Navy-Northrop Grumman plume higher on the priority list for this funding.
While it’s a relief to finally see some progress, it’s distressing that such an important water source has been endangered for decades. Absent prompt federal action, we agree with a recent Newsday editorial calling on DEC to continue to be aggressive in its fact-finding mission and its efforts to both contain and remediate damage. Regardless of the findings, residents must be notified soon after the state discovers new information. Such a threat to our clean water can literally be a matter of life or death for Nassau residents who rely on the aquifer for their drinking water. This is not to be taken lightly.