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Suit: Cancer among Bethpage family members result of Northrop Grumman toxic dumping

Suit filed by the Cornett family seeks $100 million each for the husband and wife as well as their son and says the defense manufacturer should have known dumping grounds were "grossly contaminated."

The Bethpage water tower shown on Feb. 17,

The Bethpage water tower shown on Feb. 17, 2017 in Bethpage. The 600-acre Grumman and Navy site in Bethpage, which operated from the 1930s to mid-1990s, led to contaminated soils and groundwater, including a tainted plume that has spread four miles south so far. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

A Bethpage family blames Northrop Grumman's toxic dumping for three members' cancer in a federal lawsuit asking for more than $300 million.

The Cornetts have lived in Bethpage since 1984, within a half-mile from the defense giant's former manufacturing and research plant, according a suit filed Nov. 13 in Central Islip federal court. In a 20-month span, Cathy Cornett was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2015, her son Chris with testicular cancer that metastasized in 2016 and husband Bruce with prostate cancer in 2017, the suit said. 

The three have undergone treatment but bear the physical and mental scars as "captive citizens" who may be stricken with cancer again because they live so close to the former defense plant, the suit said. Only the couple's daughter remains cancer-free, the suit said.

"After countless surgeries, procedures, and treatment, the Cornetts have been irreparably harmed and they live in a constant state of fear of illness returning," the suit said. "The Cornetts’ cancers were caused by Defendant’s contamination."

The family declined to comment, said their attorney, James Rigano of Melville.

In a statement, a Northrop Grumman spokesman said the company is reviewing the lawsuit but generally does not comment on ongoing litigation.

“Northrop Grumman continues to work closely with the Navy and federal, state and local government regulatory authorities, as we have done for more than 20 years, to address environmental conditions in Bethpage, through implementation of scientifically sound and technically proven remedial measures,” the spokesman said.

The 600-acre Grumman and Navy site, which operated from the 1930s to mid-1990s, manufactured World War II fighter planes and was home to the Apollo moon lander.

But that legacy led to contaminated soils and groundwater, including a tainted plume that has spread four miles south so far. Wells on Grumman property were tainted by the late 1940s, volatile organic chemicals had been found in water by the 1970s, and in 1983 the state added the site to its hazardous waste Superfund list. Radium, which is radioactive, was found in elevated levels in the groundwater, but the source of the material has not been established. Higher levels of a likely carcinogen, 1,4-dioxane, has been found throughout Long Island and in Bethpage monitoring wells and was identified as part of the Navy/Grumman plumes.

Several cleanup plans are in place, primarily focused on volatile organic chemicals. The Bethpage Water District earlier this year said it planned to close five of its nine drinking water wells within the next seven years.

The family's attorney said Grumman used part of its site, the 16-acre Grumman Settling Ponds area, as a dumping ground for waste and should have known it was "grossly contaminated" when it donated the land in 1962 to Oyster Bay Town.

That plot was turned into the Bethpage Community Park, where Chris Cornett regularly played sports as a child and where levels of PCBs and other carcinogens were thousands of times above safety levels, the suit said.

The family has sued Virginia-based Northrop Grumman for negligence and liability. The parents and their son each want at least $100 million in pain and suffering and punitive damages as well as medical expenses to monitor their health.

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