Newsday covered the opening of Bethpage Community Park in 1965.

Newsday covered the opening of Bethpage Community Park in 1965. Credit: Newsday

This timeline was reported and written by Paul LaRocco.

For decades, Grumman Aerospace was celebrated for its gift of land to the Town of Oyster Bay that became Bethpage Community Park. Generations of families enjoyed the grounds — until 2002, when the park's ballfield first closed due to contamination in the soil.

Since then, the true impact of how Grumman used the site before the donation has revealed itself slowly. By this past spring, many people already knew the company once dumped toxic chemicals directly into the ground there, and that the activity led to deep soil and groundwater pollution. But the recent discovery of 22 chemical drums buried at the park still jarred residents and officials. 

As Newsday reveals in a new investigation, environmental regulators had a chance eight years ago to discover the full extent of what lies beneath Bethpage Community Park, but conducted a minimal review of a tipster's claims that he had seen drums buried there.

Bethpage Community Park: How a civic centerpiece came to represent a regional contamination crisis 

Some key developments in the saga of old Grumman land where 22 chemical drums were recently unearthed, years after environmental regulators dismissed a tipster's information.


Grumman uses land to dispose of waste

Grumman Aerospace Corp. uses 18 acres of undeveloped land adjacent to its Bethpage manufacturing facility as a waste disposal site.


The dump site that later became the park, overlaid with its features.


Grumman gifts land to town

Grumman donates the land to the Town of Oyster Bay to build a park. In a letter to the company, town officials say Grumman “may continue to discharge … liquid waste” on-site. The town, however, wrongly believed it was “nontoxic.” 

land deal

The town set conditions for Grumman's use of the land until the park was developed.


Town opens park

Bethpage Community Park opens. The facility would include a baseball field, tennis courts, playground, skate park, ice skating rink and swimming pool.

Bethpage park opens

Oyster Bay officials mark the grand opening. Credit: Newsday

1960s through 1980s

The park grows in popularity

The park is a centerpiece of life in Bethpage, hosting Little League baseball, youth football, summer concerts and more.

Bethpage park

A group plays handball at Bethpage Community Park in 1986. Credit: Newsday / Bill Senft


Employee sees buried drums

Sal Cornicelli, an Oyster Bay town parks maintenance employee, said he witnessed a backhoe striking numerous 55-gallon drums deep in the ground. He alleged that his boss at the time ordered the hole covered and did not report the finding.

Cornicelli said the drums were located near the park's old flagpole and monuments area, on the opposite side of the recent discovery.

Sal Cornicelli

Cornicelli in an undated photo. Credit: Sal Cornicelli


DEC reaches agreement with Grumman

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation enters a cleanup agreement with Northrop Grumman, Grumman's corporate successor, to address soil and groundwater contamination on Grumman's manufacturing site. The state dismisses the need to test for potential contamination at the adjacent Bethpage Community Park.

Grumman document

"... the Park is not considered to be a source area."


Soil tests reveal toxic chemicals

Town closes the park upon finding elevated levels of toxic PCBs in the ballfield soil. Officials initially downplay the discovery.


Consultants explain land used for dumping

Northrop Grumman consultants detail the site's past use as a dump. When the area is later determined to be the source of the area's worst groundwater contamination, the company tries to say its past use was "not well understood."

Grumman report

The accounting of the land's past use included no reference to buried drums.


Town begins cleanup of another area of park

As Northrop Grumman and the state investigate the ballfield, Oyster Bay begins its own cleanup of another park area. The town spends $25 million to build an ice skating center and parking lot, after excavating 160,000 cubic yards of soil and in the process removing "approximately 50 crushed steel drums."

chemical drum

A pile of debris, with parts of drums exposed, seen during Oyster Bay’s cleanup project. Credit: Town of Oyster Bay


DEC enters into cleanup plan with Grumman

The DEC enters into a binding cleanup plan with Northrop Grumman for cleaning the contaminated ballfield soil and containing the toxic groundwater plume found to be caused by Grumman's dumping.


Tipster shares story with water commissioner

Cornicelli, now retired, recounts his story to a friend and local bar owner, John Coumatos, who also is a water district commissioner. The DEC opens an investigation and the town temporarily closes other portions of the park.

Weeks later, the agency concludes "that buried drums do not exist beneath the park." A report explains that if the drums were ever there, they were likely removed during the town's 2006 project.

The DEC soon notifies the town of its findings, but leaves out the blunt language.

DEC letter

The DEC report says the agency's work had been completed and references no future action.


Newsday publishes Grumman Plume investigation

Newsday publishes "The Grumman Plume: Decades of Deceit," detailing how actions by the company and regulators led to an environmental crisis.

Late that year, the state announces that Grumman and the U.S. Navy, after years of resistance, had agreed to a $406 million plan to fully contain and clean the larger groundwater contamination. The 2013 agreement to clean and restore Bethpage Community Park's ballfield remains separate.

Grumman Plume investigation

Newsday's cover on Feb. 19, 2020. Credit: Newsday


Town sues Grumman

Frustrated with the pace of the ballfield cleanup, Oyster Bay sues Northrop Grumman, alleging the 2013 state plan isn't comprehensive enough.


More chemical drums found buried in park

Northrop Grumman contractors discover concrete-encased chemical drums in the old ballfield area. To date, 22 have been uncovered.

The discovery has prompted the DEC to newly require Grumman to remove some of the contaminated soil, rather than reburying it, and to fund a new ballfield.

Regulators confirm the drums all contained contaminants, including PCBs, metals and carcinogenic solvents already in the ground. They say there's no evidence the drums had leaked and contributed to the contamination.

chemical drum

The first drums are placed into a trash container. Credit: Town of Oyster Bay


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