Defense Secretary James Mattis is looking into Sen. Chuck Schumer’s request that the U.S. Navy account for radioactive materials it used, handled or stored at a Bethpage site where aviation and space research and manufacturing took place for decades.
Schumer (D-N.Y.), in a one-on-one meeting last week, asked Mattis to follow up on the senator’s concerns about radioactive materials at the state Superfund site.
“They had a productive discussion on a range of issues, including a number of environmental concerns Sen. Schumer raised on behalf of his constituents,” Defense Department spokesperson Laura M. Seal said in a statement to Newsday on Tuesday. “Secretary Mattis is looking at these issues closely and will provide follow-up responses to Sen. Schumer.”
The Navy and Grumman Aerospace Corp., now Northrop Grumman, researched, tested and manufactured airplanes and space exploration vehicles at the 600-acre site from the 1930s to the 1990s.
“My message to Secretary Mattis — who was focused and concerned — was crystal clear: We need answers and action to clean up the toxic mess in Bethpage coming from the former Navy Grumman site, especially in light of newly discovered radioactive contamination,” Schumer said in a statement.
The Senate minority leader said he also pressed Mattis to curtail contamination from the Bethpage site, which has been on the Superfund list since 1983 and is subject to several cleanup plans.
In June, the Navy filed a report to Congress that detailed the history and cleanup of groundwater and soil contamination at the site.
The report, required by the 2016 Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, largely detailed work to remove and contain volatile organic chemicals. It did not mention radioactive compounds.
That month, however, officials in the Bethpage school district reported that monitoring wells at Bethpage High School — across the street from a park that is part of the Superfund site — had detected elevated levels of radium.
A Freedom of Information Law request filed by Newsday also revealed that the defense contractor had handled more than three dozen radioactive materials at the site.
In last week’s meeting, Schumer asked Mattis to have the Navy include an addendum to its June report focusing on the use of radioactive materials.
If not, Schumer told Newsday, he will consider proposing an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act making it a requirement.
That bill, which annually funds the military, has passed the House of Representatives. It may come up for a vote in the Senate before the August recess.
Rich Humann, president and CEO of H2M, a Melville engineering firm representing water suppliers, said the state, Navy and Northrop Grumman should be aware of historic use and practices. Field investigations also may be necessary.
“The more they know, the better position they are in to prepare and respond,” Humann said. “With the radium, the information has been in bits and pieces, nothing comprehensive.”