The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation laid out their plan to clean up industrial contamination that began from a former Grumman site in Bethpage at a public meeting Tuesday night, while three local water districts were on hand to oppose the state plan.
Steven Scharf, Project Manager for the DEC, said the state is investigating every logical step available to stop the toxic plume that has been drifting southward from the Bethpage site.
“We’ve done investigations, we’ve taken samples, and what we need to do with all of that is to develop remedial alternatives, and then evaluate those alternatives,” he said. “We’re currently running an on-site pump to prevent migration of groundwater off-site, and extracting and treating groundwater with a goal of removing 90 percent of contaminant mass.”
The famed aerospace company owned a plant in Bethpage, where they manufactured aircraft and other equipment for the U.S. Government until the company closed the facility in 1996.
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In 1962, Grumman donated an area of the facility to the Town of Oyster Bay; an area that would eventually become Bethpage Community Park. But unbeknownst to the town, prior to donating the land, Grumman had used the area for disposal of waste from the plant since the 1950s.
The waste was buried and covered, and eventually seeped into the ground, forming large plumes of waste matter that have been slowly migrating southward.
One of these plumes, called Operable Unit 3, or OU3, was discovered 22 years ago and is currently threatening to contaminate the drinking water supplies of the Bethpage, Massapequa, and South Farmingdale Water Districts, who outlined their plans to stop it at the meeting which was held at Bethpage High School.
Scharf also discussed what alternatives the state is considering.
“Among alternatives we’re looking at are complete excavation of the park, a complete groundwater extraction, capping the park, as well as other plans,” he said.
The DEC currently has no set timetable for the implementation of their plans to combat the Grumman waste issue.
The State has split the blame for the contamination between Grumman, the Navy Department (who Grumman was working for at the time), and the Town of Oyster Bay (who was allowing Grumman to use the land at the time). The state is currently working with all three entities as far as the cleanup effort goes, although critics decry what they perceive to be a lack of progress on controlling the plumes.
Massapequa Water District Commissioner John Caruso was clearly determined to express his discontent at what he deems a lack of action on the part of DEC officials.
“We sent a letter to the state, telling them what we wanted,” he said. “It was to stop the plume, and their current plan does not answer that. This is another deal by the DEC that just circumvents everything that’s been asked for. 5,400 petitions from the Massapequa Water District went to the Governor’s office...no response on this OU3. Four water districts representing 200,000 people defined what they wanted...this does not agree with it.”
When asked what plan of action the Massapequa Water District would like to see carried out, Caruso’s reply was to the point.
“Stop the plume from advancing,” he said. “We do not want it to enter our water supply. Stop it, send it back up to Bethpage, treat it, and inject it back into the ground water. That’s what the normal approach is.”
Anthony Sabino, a lawyer for the Bethpage Water District, also accused the state of inactivity.
“Our position is the same today as it was 22 years ago when this investigation started,” he said. “The State is not doing enough to stop this plume...the plume has been expanding every single year that the State twiddles it’s thumbs and allows the contamination to flow southward from the Grumman site. They’re refusing to put in enough recovery wells to treat this plume, and this plan, they’re proposing one well instead of the half-dozen that’s needed.”
Len Constantinopoli, business manager for the South Farmingdale Water District, also called for a quicker cleanup.
“We stand with our brother water utilities, both Bethpage and Massapequa,” he said. “This site needs to be cleaned up, and cleaned up to drinking water standards. We think the State should look at the plan and redevelop it. Don’t leave it up to our water utilities and taxpayers to clean up.”
Steven Karpinski, Public Health Specialist for the DEC, spoke on the impact the contamination has had upon local residents up until this point.
“We’ve been looking at the data to determine if people are going to be harmed by what we know is underground,” he said. “Fortunately, we have not really coma across many exposure issues at all. The materials are underground...it’s not in a place where people are going to come into contact with it, including the children who use the park.”
Karpinski also covered the state's response to the public’s fears of their drinking water becoming fouled by Grumman’s underground waste.
“Obviously, the ground water is a big issue,” he said. “It’s a huge plume, there’s a lot of material down there, but there’s New York State regulations in place to ensure that public water supplies are tested on a regular basis.”
After the DEC’s speakers finished their presentation, they allowed time for members of both the local water commissions and the public to make statements. While none of the statements were addressed by DEC, they assured all speakers that their opinions would be transcribed and made a part of the public record.
Judith Lee of Massapequa was one of the many local residents who attended the meeting. For her, the Grumman pollution issue hit closer to home than for most.
“I’m concerned...as a property owner, I’m very concerned, and I don’t think the state is doing everything it can,” she said. “However, I also have to say that I’m from a Grumman family...my father spent 50 years of his life working for Grumman, and it really hurts to know that you’re being poisoned by the very company that put bread on your table.”
Stanley Meyerson of Bethpage, possibly echoing the sentiments of many attendees, left the meeting just as confused as when he arrived.
“There probably isn’t one person in the audience with the ability to evaluate the situation...I don’t,” he said. “No matter what our educations are, it’s probably not analyzing well water. And I have no idea if the Water Districts are better equipped to handle this than the State. I don’t know the answers, and I don’t know who does.”