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Bethpage Water District to shut three well sites over plume concerns

The three well sites are in the heart of several contamination plumes spreading from a site where the Navy and what is now Northrop Grumman researched, tested and manufactured aircraft and space equipment.

The Bethpage Water District facility located at Sophia

The Bethpage Water District facility located at Sophia Street and Herman Avenue in Bethpage is one of the three officials plan to close. File from October 2014. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

Bethpage Water District plans to spend about $17 million to shut down three well sites that are drawing from groundwater plumes and drill new water-supply wells outside the boundaries of the area of industrial contamination, which has plagued the system for decades.

The plan is to phase out use of five wells at the three sites over the next five to seven years, depending on permit and other approvals needed for new facilities, superintendent Mike Boufis said.

The district currently has nine wells at six locations.

“We’re developing sources outside of the plume,” Boufis said at a community meeting at Bethpage High School Tuesday night. “We’re looking for long-term sustainability.”

The district has spent roughly $17 million over the decades to build treatment plants to remove volatile organic chemicals and other contaminants that have been traced back to a 600-acre site in Bethpage where the Navy and what is now Northrop Grumman researched, tested and manufactured airplanes and space exploration equipment from the 1930s to 1990s.

But it now also faces elevated levels of radium and 1,4-dioxane, an unregulated likely carcinogen that has been found throughout Long Island and in Bethpage monitoring wells. The source of the radium has not been established, but the 1,4-dioxane is a compound that has been identified as part of the Navy/Grumman plumes.

The three well sites the district wants to close are in the heart of several plumes, the largest of which has spread nearly four miles south of the original manufacturing site. It is also 1.8 miles wide and 300 to 800 feet beneath the surface depending on location.

The plan is to drill a new well at an existing site near Charles Campagne Elementary School on Plainview Road, build two new wells at as yet unidentified sites and construct transmission lines to carry water from them, district officials said. The estimated cost of the work is $17 million, they added.

“This is our future,” Boufis said. “This is our plan.”

Contamination in that area moves on average about a foot per day to the southeast, Boufis said.

The plan to move wells out of the plumes is the latest step in a long saga. Chromium was discovered in water supplies south of Grumman operations in the late 1940s, and in 1976 wells on the property tested positive for volatile organic chemicals.

The site was added to the state Superfund list in 1983 and the Department of Environmental Conservation has been overseeing a number of cleanup plans to remove contaminated soils and treat groundwater.

Other water suppliers expressed concern that Bethpage’s decision could have an adverse impact on their operations. The three well sites combined pump and treat about 10 million gallons per day, and turning those wells off at the same time that other suppliers continue to draw water could change the plume’s behavior.

“If they make a change it could affect the other [water] purveyors in the area,” said Carmen Tierno, president of New York American Water, which has a well in Levittown that has been affected by the plume. “It could change the hydrogeology but it would be something we’d keep our eye on.”

Bethpage’s plans make the need to clean up contaminants all the more urgent, said Stan Carey, superintendent of Massapequa Water District. Wells in the Massapequa district have not been hit with contamination but are in the potential path of the ever-growing plume.

“It’s concerning that Bethpage is shutting them off,” Carey said. “I don’t blame them. I think this hopefully will step up the process for the DEC, Navy and Grumman to do something.”

In December, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the state had an action plan to contain the plumes and could spend up to $150 million to construct 14 treatment wells around the perimeter of the contamination plus up to four wells inside the boundaries at hot spots. Drilling on two interior remedial wells began earlier this year.

A feasibility study launched last year to study how to contain the plume was expected to be released at the end of 2017 but will not likely be made public for a few more months.

The study does encompass all the sites that provide drinking water, treat contaminants and monitor water quality, said Martin Brand, DEC’s deputy commissioner for remediation and materials management.

Using the abandoned Bethpage well sites for future remediation efforts “is certainly under consideration,” Brand said.

“They’re doing great benefit in terms of remediating contamination but they’re not designed for that,” Brand said of the well sites. “They’re designed for drinking water.”

Bethpage Water District

Serves 33,000 people in a 5-square-mile area

Six plants, or sites, host nine wells.

The plan:

Shut down five wells at three sites within the plume

Add another well at an existing site

Drill two new wells outside plume boundaries.

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