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DEC orders radium testing at Lockheed Martin site in Lake Success

A state DEC radiation specialist surveys the one-time

A state DEC radiation specialist surveys the one-time industrial site in Lake Success for radioactive materials Friday, June 30, 2017. Credit: Sean Mahar

State environmental officials are ordering Lockheed Martin to test for radioactive compounds and stop all excavation work at a Lake Success office park after soil removed from the site was found to contain radium.

The Department of Environmental Conservation said the soil contamination does not pose a threat to drinking water but it has ordered Lockheed Martin to immediately sample 17 groundwater monitoring wells at the site for radium, uranium, thorium and other radioactive compounds.

Also Friday, the state announced it would begin looking at other industrial facilities where radioactive materials may have potentially been used. On Long Island, the effort will be focused on military industrial sites, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos told Newsday.

“While radium and other radioactive materials can be naturally occurring, and some detections in groundwater are not uncommon, DEC is continuing to aggressively pursue any potential sources of contamination and hold polluters accountable,” the agency said.

The 94-acre parcel, which has been redeveloped since its days as an industrial complex, is owned by Apollo Lake Success Property LLC and 1111 Marcus Avenue Unit 2 Owners LLC. But Lockheed Martin is responsible for cleaning up soil and groundwater contamination as part of two state cleanup programs.

The DEC also gave the company 30 days to produce a comprehensive report about the “storage, use and disposal of all radiological items used at the facility.”

Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Mékell Mikell said the company notified the state, neighboring property owners and other stakeholders about the radium find.

“There were no radiation readings before the excavation began, and there is minimal risk of exposure,” she said in a statement. “The worksite area is fenced and secured from the public.”

Attempts to reach the property owners were unsuccessful.

In late May, trucks were sent back to the Lake Success site after one truckload of soil — excavated as part of an ongoing cleanup plan — sounded an alarm for radioactive substances at a waste-disposal facility in Pennsylvania, DEC said.

Subsequent tests of the soil confirmed this week that radium was present in concentrations as high as 160 picocuries per gram, well beyond what would be considered normal. Tests elsewhere on the site did not locate elevated levels of radioactive materials, Seggos said.

“At this point it appears to be a localized environmental contamination question that we’re taking very seriously,” Seggos said.

Inhaling radium-contaminated dust can cause bone cancer, leukemia and other ill health affects, according to an Environmental Protection Agency fact sheet.

Air monitoring systems have been in place during excavation work and dust suppression equipment is on-site, the DEC said.

The property along Marcus Avenue now houses luxury office space and medical facilities — including Northwell Health’s Center for Advanced Medicine — but it was first used as a World War II-era military factory. It also served as a temporary United Nations headquarters in the late 1940s.

By the early 1950s, a military gyrocompass manufacturing plant was operating out of the site and defense work of some kind continued through 1995 as the company changed names and ownership from Sperry Gyroscope to Unisys to Loral Corp. to Lockheed Martin.

Northwell Health did not respond to a request for comment.

The parcel lies on both sides of the southern boundary of the Village of Lake Success in the Town of North Hempstead.

Lake Success Mayor Adam Hoffman said the village has its own environmental consultants who monitor work and Lockheed Martin activities.

“No one is quite sure how it got there,” Hoffman said. “Am I concerned? Yes, but it sounds like it is under control.”

The DEC actions come on the heels of an announcement by the agency earlier this week that it would send hazardous-waste inspectors and a radiation specialist to investigate a building at a former industrial site in Bethpage where the Navy and Northrop Grumman once researched, manufactured and tested military aircraft and space exploration vehicles beginning in the late 1930s. Several cleanup plans are in effect there to remediate soil contamination and groundwater plumes.

The DEC announced the site investigation in the wake of a report by Newsday last week that radium and other radioactive elements had once been handled in Bethpage and that “radiation effects studies” were conducted in a building called Plant 26 at the site.

Seggos said a team of investigators visited Plant 26 Friday, went through every room in the building and found no evidence of elevated radioactivity.

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