Northrop Grumman to test water in Bethpage

The Bethpage Water District has shut down one

The Bethpage Water District has shut down one of its drinking-supply wells after elevated levels of radium were detected, and officials want to run tests in hopes of finding the source. (May 22, 2013) (Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa)

Northrop Grumman has agreed to assist the Bethpage Water District by testing some of the monitoring wells on its property for radium.

The district, which serves about 33,000 customers, said last week that it has shut down one of its drinking-water wells after detecting elevated levels of the radioactive element.

District officials reached out to the Navy and Northrop Grumman for access to their Bethpage test wells in hopes of finding the source of the radium.

The Navy immediately approved the request. Northrop Grumman followed suit Saturday, a day after Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) urged the defense contractor to approve the testing.

"Northrop Grumman, in coordination with government regulatory agencies, will sample and analyze the water in the wells closest to the Bethpage Water District's wells," company spokesman Tim Paynter said.

He said the district will be allowed to take its own samples for independent analysis.

The radium levels detected by the district don't exceed state or federal drinking-water standards, but they've risen since the district began the testing in 2006.

The well in question was shut down in January. Officials say overall water quality hasn't been affected.

"We need to know where the radium is coming from, and testing on Grumman property will allow the water district to provide a clearer picture," Schumer said Saturday.

Water district Superintendent Michael Boufis said he was happy to hear about Northrop Grumman's cooperation, "as long as they're testing for the right contaminant that we're finding."

Starting in 1942, the Navy and Grumman Aircraft Corp. (now Northrop Grumman) operated research, testing, design, fabrication and assembly plants in Bethpage. Manufacturing stopped in 1998, and Northrop Grumman has gradually wound down its operations in the area.

Radium, considered a carcinogen, occurs naturally in low levels in rock, soil, water, plants and animals. The element was used during World War II because its luminescence allowed aircraft dials, gauges and instruments to be seen at night.

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