Two men observe demolition of hangars at Roosevelt Field on...

Two men observe demolition of hangars at Roosevelt Field on March 26, 1956. Credit: Newsday/Thomas Maguire

The decadeslong cleanup of contaminated groundwater at the old Roosevelt airfield site in Garden City has received a boost in federal funding.

The Environmental Protection Agency will receive $13 million to continue the work, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday. The funds will be drawn from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which set aside $3.5 billion for more than 100 Superfund site cleanups across the country.   

Work on the site has been underway for 35 years as the water is pumped out, treated and released. The EPA said Tuesday Garden City's drinking water is safe, as all residences and commercial buildings are supplied by public wells that are treated to remove contaminants. 

Chemicals were first discovered in the groundwater near the field in the 1970s, and the site was added to the EPA’s National Priorities List — commonly called the Superfund list — in 2000. But the groundwater in the area is still polluted with toxic compounds, and completing the job could take decades.

The infrastructure law will allow the EPA  to “use the funds for this unfinished business,” Schumer spokesperson Angelo Roefaro said.

Roosevelt field was a military airfield used for pilot training before World War I and for training mechanics during World War II. In between it was a private airfield and the takeoff point for Charles Lindbergh’s solo trans-Atlantic flight in 1927.

It’s now the site of the Roosevelt shopping mall, built in the 1950s.

Today the groundwater around the old airfield is contaminated with toxic chemicals, including tetrachloroethene (PCE) and trichloroethene (TCE), which were used in maintaining the aircraft and have been linked to cancer and other diseases.

The chemicals were detected in two nearby public wells in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Cleanup work began in 1987.

In 2012 the EPA installed a series of extraction wells that remove contaminated groundwater, treat it with an “air stripping” process that vaporizes volatile organic compounds and discharges the treated water into recharge basins. The cleaned water then slowly seeps back into the groundwater below.

Since then the emerging contaminant 1,4-dioxane was discovered in the groundwater around the site.  The EPA has classified the emerging contaminant as a likely carcinogen.

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