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State: $585 million to treat, contain water contaminants in Bethpage plume

A state report recommends 24 wells connected with miles of piping, five treatment plants and recharging the cleaned water into the aquifer through four basins and irrigation at areas including Bethpage State Park.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks about the Bethpage

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks about the Bethpage plume in Farmingdale in December 2017. The plume is considered Long Island's largest groundwater pollution source. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

New York State released a $585 million plan on Thursday to contain and treat the Bethpage groundwater pollution plume that has been spreading from former Northrop Grumman and Navy facilities.

Based on new engineering and groundwater modeling developed over the past two years, the state recommended drilling 24 wells to pump 17.5 million gallons of water per day and send them to five treatment plants. The treated water would then be recharged to the aquifer through four basins and irrigation, including at Bethpage State Park, as well as sending the water into Massapequa Creek.

“This is going to be a knockdown, drag-out fight with polluters. They’ve said for years it can’t be contained, it shouldn’t be contained. This study and investigation turns all of that on its head,” state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said Thursday.

The Bethpage plume is considered Long Island's largest groundwater pollution source, with 24 contaminants, including TCE, a human carcinogen that according to the Environmental Protection Agency is toxic to the immune system and reproduction. It also contains the emerging contaminant 1,4-dioxane, a likely carcinogen, according to the EPA, that water providers are struggling to treat.

The state's study, which reviewed five alternatives for treatment and containment, found the plume has spread 4.3 miles south toward the Southern State Parkway, was 2.1 miles wide at its widest point and up to 900 feet deep.

If the Navy and Grumman balk at the cleanup plan, the state plans to move ahead with the project and sue them later to recover the costs as allowed under state law to clean up polluted sites, officials said.

Vic Beck, a Northrop Grumman spokesman, said the company expects to submit comments to the state during the 45-day public comment period.

"We continue to work closely with the U.S. Navy, NYSDEC and other federal, state and local regulatory authorities to address environmental conditions in Bethpage, and we remain committed to pursuing scientifically sound, targeted and effective remedial approaches that minimize community disruption,” he said in a statement.

A Navy spokesman said it was reviewing the state report.

"The Navy takes its environmental stewardship responsibilities seriously, and implements sound programs to protect human health and the environment. Our primary goal is to ensure the residents of Long Island are protected," Navy spokesman Lt. Benjamin Anderson said in a statement.

A public meeting will be held June 10 at Bethpage High School to present the proposal. Public comment will be accepted until July 7, at which time the state will formally select its preferred alternative. There's no timeline for constructing the project, but a state official said portions of the project could be done in phases, focusing on containment first, and it would take several years to fully construct.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the plan Thursday.

"New York will not stand idly by as polluters threaten the health and safety of Long Island’s residents and communities," he said in a statement. "With the release of this groundbreaking plan to contain and treat the Navy/Grumman plume, we are taking action on a comprehensive system to safeguard communities and ensure that Long Island’s drinking water and environment are protected for generations to come.”

The 600-acre Northrop Grumman-Navy site was home to airplane and space-exploration research, testing and manufacturing from the 1930s and until the 1990s, including production of the Hellcat and other fighter jets and work on the Apollo moon lander. It also left behind soil and groundwater contamination, according to the state. The state declared it a Superfund site in 1983.

Bethpage Water District, which provides water to 33,000 customers, has spent millions of dollars treating water to get it to meet state and federal drinking water standards. While the Navy has agreed to pay for portions of drinking water treatment, the water district and local officials have complained about delays from the Navy, Northrop Grumman and, until recent years, the DEC.

The plumes have been spreading at an estimated rate of a foot per day, including to Massapequa, South Farmingdale and Levittown water districts.

"I think it’s about time and it’s great that finally someone put a stick in the ground and said ‘we’re going to do something,’ " Bethpage Water District Commissioner John Coumatos said. "This is the first time in a long time that the DEC is helping us. This is huge for us."

Stan Carey, superintendent of the Massapequa Water District, said he was pleased the plan calls for Northrop Grumman and the Navy "to finally, properly clean up the plume and capture it at its leading edge. It’s what we’ve been advocating for for years, and people of Massapequa have been demanding for decades. I think it’s aggressive. I think it needs to be aggressive."

District engineers estimate the leading edge of the plume will reach Massapequa water wells in two to five years. "It's approaching our doorsteps. Each day it marches closer and closer to Massapequa," Carey said.

Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino said, “This study is a critical step in achieving the long-overdue goal of containing and treating the Grumman-Navy plume."

While water authority officials have maintained the water is safe to drink and meets state and federal drinking water standards, health concerns have persisted in the community.

James Rigano, a Melville-based attorney for Long Island Pure Water, a nonprofit formed to represent residents in the district, has sued the DEC and Navy over negative health effects from the industrial legacy of the site. He said the DEC plan "is a step in the right direction" but does not address all the health impacts of the people of Bethpage. Tests have shown radium in Bethpage groundwater supplies, but state and federal officials have said levels are within normal ranges.

The recommended alternative selected by the state surrounds the plume with extraction wells, which will pump and treat 17.5 million gallons of water per day. The water will be treated to drinking water standards, according to a senior DEC official, before it is put into recharge basins, used as irrigation, including at Bethpage State Park, or put into the creek.

Alternatives in a state report released in 2016 looked at pumping water and sending it out to the Atlantic Ocean or bays. But a senior DEC official said that could cause a dramatic reduction in the level of the aquifer, which could cause saltwater to spread into drinking water sources.

While the plume previously had been depicted as an oval or "eggplant-shaped," as a senior DEC official described it, the modeling showed it to be "much more complicated." There's a shallower grouping of pollution and a deeper one.

The study was launched in 2017. It cost $6 million and involved drilling monitoring wells up to 1,000 feet deep, plus 3D modeling of the plume with the United States Geological Survey, consultants and state DEC staff.

Capital costs are expected to be more than $240 million, and operation and maintenance over the next 30 years will cost in excess of $320 million, officials said.

With Paul LaRocco

PUBLIC COMMENT

  • What: State public comment meeting on treatment of Bethpage groundwater pollution plume
  • When: June 10
  • Time: Availability session, 5 p.m.; public meeting, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Bethpage High School Auditorium

BY THE NUMBERS

  • $585 million: Proposed for Bethpage plume cleanup
  • 17.5 million: Gallons of water to be pumped per day from 24 wells
  • 33,000: Customers in Bethpage Water District
  • 24: Contaminants found in groundwater

SOURCE: State of New York, Newsday research

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