In Personal Meeting With Navy Secretary Spencer, Schumer Raised Crucial Need for Toxic Plume Cleanup At Navy-Grumman Site & Said Navy Must Do More to Promptly Cover Water Districts’ Costs

Alongside Navy Secretary & With Locals, Schumer Again Presses To Contain Contamination, Speed-up Payments & Encourage More Navy-Bethpage Cooperation and Information Sharing   

Schumer: Bethpage Plume Meeting Marks Rare Opportunity For Locals To Speak Directly With Navy Secretary & Advance Clean-up Efforts 

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today convened and led a critical meeting between new U.S. Navy Secretary, Richard Spencer, and the local water districts impacted by the toxic plumes coming from the former Navy-Grumman site in Bethpage. Earlier this year, Schumer met with Secretary Spencer, then nominee Spencer, where he pushed various Bethpage plume-related clean-up and payment issues. In that meeting, Schumer urged the nominee to do everything in his power to get the Navy to proactively corral the migrating contamination from the toxic plume and address new radioactive contamination in and around the former Navy-Grumman site in Bethpage; he specifically urged nominee Spencer to visit Bethpage and meet with local water district officials. As a result of their meeting, Navy Secretary Spencer committed to Schumer’s request.  

“Having US Navy Secretary Spencer in Bethpage is an opportunity for the local water districts to educate the Secretary on the critical need for the Navy to more aggressively contain the advancement of the plume and to establish a better system for more prompt payment of the considerable costs the water districts absorb while they fight this battle,” said U.S. Senator Schumer. “We thank Secretary Spencer for taking the time to understand the concerns of locals and our water districts, and also the concerns I raised with him. At the end of the day, the more effectively local water officials are able to work with the Navy, the more we will be able to accomplish. The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step and closing the book on this long-standing issue will require more steps, which is why today’s giant leap of a meeting is so critical.”   

Schumer has long championed the local water districts of Bethpage, South Farmingdale and Massapequa as they struggled to contain and pay for the toxic plumes emanating from the former navy-Grumman facility in Bethpage, often in face of corporate and bureaucratic stonewalling. Last year, Schumer successfully pushed for language in the 2016 Water Resource and Development Act (WRDA) that mandated that the Navy submit a report to Congress on the groundwater contamination at the Bethpage Plume Site. The report must be submitted annually for the next 4 years. The report includes a description of the status of contaminants that are leaving the site and migrating to locations within a 10-mile radius of the site, a detailed mapping of the movement of the plume over time, an analysis of the current and future impacts of the movement of the plume on drinking water facilities, and a comprehensive strategy to prevent the groundwater toxins from contaminating drinking water wells that have not yet been affected by the plume.  

Prior to Schumer’s one-on-one meeting with Richard Spencer, it was found that groundwater (not used for drinking water) nearby Bethpage High School was contaminated by high levels of radium. Bethpage Community Park, the location of the groundwater, was once part of a more than 600-acre complex where the Navy and the company, now known as Northrop Grumman, disposed of waste and other contaminants from operations associated with developing, testing, and manufacturing airplanes and space exploration aircraft. According to a document filed by state environmental officials and described in media reports, radium, tritium, polonium, uranium, and other radioactive isotopes were handled at the Northrop Grumman/Navy site in Bethpage. Further, in 2012 the Bethpage Water District was forced to shut down one of its drinking supply wells after elevated levels of radium were detected there. And, finally, recent alarming media reports of company and regulatory documents suggest that radium and other radioactive materials were handled at the Grumman site, despite earlier denials that this was the case. Meeting participants pressed the Navy for more detailed information on the use, storage and disposal of radioactive materials at the site.

Moreover, in additional meetings with the Department of Defense, Schumer also urged Defense Secretary Mattis to ensure that the Navy will continue to provide the local community with the financial and technical assistance it needs to clean up the plume. As a remediation effort, Bethpage Water District built wellhead treatment systems at Plants 4, 5 and 6 to purify the drinking water and ensure the delivery of high quality water to the Bethpage community. Because of the plume, the water contains volatile organic compounds (VOC), and the wellhead treatment systems will provide a two-step process to provide drinking water free of any VOCs, such as tetrachloroethylene (TCE). This wellhead treatment center employs “air stripping,” and “granulated activated carbon” technology to remove TCE to non-detectable levels. Air stripping involves air being force blown through a column of water so that TCE attaches to the air and is removed from the water. The Bethpage Water District is still waiting on millions of dollars in reimbursement for this remediation effort and meeting participants pressed for more prompt and generous reimbursements for remediation and clean-up-related costs incurred by the water districts.

The U.S. Navy operated a Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve in Bethpage for many years, beginning in the late 1930s. Since 1976, when contamination concerns were first identified, the plume has spread and is currently threatening over 20 additional public drinking wells that serve over 250,000 Nassau County residents in Bethpage, Massapequa, South Farmingdale and Wantagh Districts. There are at least two plumes currently within the Bethpage community, and contaminants were detected in five of the eight wells operated by Bethpage Water District. The first plume originates from the Grumman Aerospace Corporation and Navy manufacturing facilities, and the smaller plume is associated with the Bethpage Community Park where Grumman and the Navy disposed of wastes. The Bethpage Water District currently has 8,800 customers.


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