Oyster Bay Town closed parts of a Bethpage park Wednesday as the state continued investigating claims that large drums from its days as a Grumman property were unearthed there in the 1990s and then reburied.
Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corp., which now is called Northrop Grumman, owned the land before donating it to the town in 1962.
The aircraft manufacturer had used the area to dispose of paint, oils, chromium-tainted sludge, arsenic and other solvents. Those actions were legal at the time.
After town employees arrived at Bethpage Community Park Wednesday afternoon, they posted signs and fenced off the tennis courts and a grassy area next to them, along with a playground, until further notice.
“As a precautionary measure while the Department of Environmental Conservation continues its investigation following an alleged tipster’s reporting that potentially contaminated drums may be buried somewhere at Bethpage Community Park, the Town of Oyster Bay is cordoning off any possible area where these drums could be located,” Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto said in a statement. “ . . . These areas will remain closed until the town receives a satisfactory response from the DEC that its investigation is complete.”
Town spokeswoman Marta Kane said Venditto held a conference call with DEC officials Wednesday to decide how to proceed with a whistleblower’s claim that the large drums were found during an excavation and were later reburied.
Venditto said he was told by DEC officials Wednesday that the investigation was moving “as expeditiously as possible.”
“I think we have to await what the findings are,” Venditto said.
Newsday reported Monday that the DEC had opened an investigation into the whistleblower’s claim.
DEC spokesman Sean Mahar said Wednesday the state investigation is ongoing.
“While we are not aware of any direct threat to public health and safety from this tip, DEC understands the cautious approach the town has taken and will continue to work with the town, Northrop Grumman and others as this investigation continues,” Mahar said.
In its investigation, the DEC is seeking to verify that all waste at the site had been cleaned up by the town or is included in an ongoing cleanup plan involving Northrop Grumman.
Bethpage resident Maria Mecci was visiting the park with her 15-month-old daughter Wednesday before the town closed down those areas.
“I’m glad they’re investigating and I wouldn’t want them to keep it open if they think there could be a danger,” Mecci said. “That’s kind of scary to even think it could be harmful.”
Maureen Cosico, who lives near the park, said she was surprised by news of the possible contamination.
“That’s not safe,” she said, as she watched her year-old daughter at the playground before town official closed it to visitors. “This is the closest park and actually one of the nicest.”
The whistleblower spoke with the DEC after the Bethpage Water District told the state agency about his claims. While the whistleblower, who did not want to be identified, has not specified where in the park the drums were discovered, he told Newsday that “I want as much as anybody else to have it cleaned up.”
The park once was part of the more than 600-acre complex used by the U.S. Navy and Grumman to test, develop and manufacture airplanes and space vehicles, including the Apollo Lunar Module. Groundwater contamination first was discovered in the 1940s, and volatile organic chemicals were documented in the mid-1970s.
The site was added to the state’s Superfund registry in 1983 and is subject to several cleanup plans, including one focused on contamination there and a groundwater plume emanating from the area.
The town closed down a portion of the park in 2002 for soil, air and groundwater tests after polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, were found in the soil. A large part of the park was excavated to remove contaminants in 2005, the DEC said.
A decade ago, when the town was building its ice rink on the site, drums were discovered and disposed of, Kane said. She did not respond to questions about the drums found during ice rink construction.
The park has been examined over the years by various entities, including the DEC, the town, the Navy and Grumman. Studies or tests also were done in 1994, 1998, 2014 and 2015.
The excavation work taking place on the access road between the playground at Bethpage Community Park and a residential neighborhood is part of a remediation project being conducted by Northrop Grumman, said Oyster Bay Town spokeswoman Marta Kane.
That project has been going on for months and has nothing to do with the issue of some drums that may have been buried in the area, Kane said.