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Cuomo: State to spend $150M to treat, contain Bethpage plume

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks about the state's

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks about the state's plan to halt the Bethpage plume on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017, in Farmingdale. Credit: Howard Schnapp

New York State is prepared to spend $150 million to build a system of wells and treatment facilities to clean up a large groundwater plume in Bethpage and to stop it from traveling farther south, which could threaten additional drinking water supplies, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Thursday.

Construction of the wells will begin next year, he said, and the state will seek to recoup the costs from the U.S. Navy and what now is Northrop Grumman. The company operated on more than 600 acres in Bethpage from the 1930s to the mid-1990s to research, test and manufacture airplanes and space-exploration vehicles.

“Delay is an enemy, and time is of the essence,” Cuomo told state and local officials at Carlyle on the Green in Farmingdale. “And every day we lose, that plume moves. And that plume is now affecting more homes.”

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, which has pressed politicians to take action, commended the governor and state lawmakers for working together to resolve a problem that has plagued residents for decades.

“Cleaning up a plume of this size takes massive political will, and it takes money and technology,” Esposito said. “Today we got all three.”

The announcement capped a state study launched in February to determine if the groundwater contamination emanating from the former manufacturing sites can be fully contained; identify the chemicals in the plume; and find out whether those chemicals could be treated.

The study yielded a fuller picture of the plume’s size, composition and path.

Cuomo said the groundwater plume — 1.8 miles wide, 3.7 miles long and up to 800 feet deep — is larger than previously estimated and is traveling with the groundwater. Tests showed the plume contain 24 contaminants, including the solvent trichloroethylene, or TCE, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists as carcinogenic, and 1,4-dioxane, an emerging, unregulated contaminant.

If no action is taken to control the plume, Cuomo said the modeling showed it would expand and spread the pollutant over a wider area as it migrated south of the Southern State and eventually reached the Atlantic Ocean.

By 2037, officials said the modeling showed that drinking water wells in the Massapequa, South Farmingdale, and Levittown water districts also could be at risk.

The groundwater plume now puts the drinking water supplies of about 33,000 customers in the Bethpage Water District at risk, according to the governor’s office. If no action is taken, by 2037 drinking water supplies of more than 100,000 customers in Massapequa, South Farmingdale and Levittown water districts may also be endangered.

The cleanup plan consists of two parts. The first is the installation of four wells inside the plume where the concentration of pollution is greatest, said Martin Brand, deputy commissioner for remediation for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Water would be removed, treated and put back into the aquifer.

“These wells are designed to pull out as much contamination as possible,” Brand said.

The second component, he said, is the construction of at least another 14 wells that would be placed around the perimeter of the groundwater plume to prevent it from continuing to migrate south. Again, water would be extracted, treated and put back into the aquifer using mainly recharge basins or injection wells.

The full containment system, which Brand estimated would take three to five years to complete, is expected to remove 20 to 30 million gallons of water daily for treatment.

The Bethpage site, which was added to the state Superfund list in 1983, is subject to a number of cleanup plans to remove contaminated soil and treat the complex series of groundwater plumes. Contaminated groundwater first was discovered in the late 1940s and volatile organic chemicals were found in the mid-1970s.

Since the spring, elevated levels of radium have been found in monitoring wells beneath two Bethpage schools, and a document released by the state after Newsday filed a public records request revealed Northrop Grumman had handled radioactive materials at Bethpage.

State DEC officials have said they are investigating the source of the radium and that it could be naturally occurring. In the case of the schools, they said the drinking water was not affected and there was no threat to students, teachers or staff.

In late October, a group of residents who allege the Navy and state DEC have failed to adequately investigate the presence of radioactive materials in Bethpage put the agencies on notice they plan to sue and seek federal court intervention.

The group, named Long Island Pure Water Ltd., in September sent formal notices of intent to sue to the secretary of the Navy, the state DEC commissioner and others, saying the contamination is “causing an imminent and substantial endangerment to health and the environment in Long Island’s sole source aquifer and the drinking water” supplies of Bethpage, South Farmingdale, Massapequa and other communities.

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