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Obama signs law that requires more monitoring of Bethpage plume

A monitoring well located in a municipal lot

A monitoring well located in a municipal lot in the rear of St. Martin of Tours Church in Bethpage on March 17, 2016. The well is used to take observations from one of the toxic plumes emanating from former manufacturing sites used by the Navy and what now is Northrop Grumman. Credit: Howard Schnapp

President Barack Obama signed into law a water infrastructure bill Friday that includes a provision requiring the Secretary of the Navy to report to Congress about groundwater plumes in Bethpage and nearby areas.

Lt. Chika Onyekanne had said in a statement, before Obama’s action, that the Navy would comply if the president signed the bill into law. The Defense Department agency did not respond to additional questions Friday.

The Senate approved the Water Infrastructure and Investment Act on Dec. 10 after it won approval in the House of Representatives.

The measure requires the Navy to compile a report that maps and projects the movement of groundwater plumes emanating from former manufacturing sites used by the Navy and what now is Northrop Grumman. It also requires that the agency develop a strategy to prevent water supplies from being affected in the future.

“Getting Congress involved is probably the ultimate accountability for the Navy, because they set the rules,” said Rich Humann, president and chief executive of H2M Architects + Engineers, which represents water suppliers. “It’s one of the most complicated plumes in the country, so it’s a good place to start.”

The first report is due in 180 days, with subsequent reports to come annually for four more years.

“If they’re really going to dive in deep, I think that will be helpful for the public,” said Mike Boufis, superintendent of the Bethpage Water District, which has spent millions installing treatment systems to remove plume contaminants from water. “I can’t wait to see what this says.”

Between the late 1930s and 1996, the Navy and what now is Northrop Grumman occupied a site in Bethpage on more than 600 acres to manufacture, test and research aircraft and equipment to serve space exploration efforts.

Contamination was discovered in the 1940s and the site was added to the state’s Superfund list in 1983. A number of cleanup plans are in effect to remove soil and groundwater contamination.

Basil Seggos, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, applauded the bill’s signing, saying in a statement the legislation will “bring additional federal resources to bear on addressing the groundwater contamination they caused.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who did not vote for the bill because he did not like items added in the House version, wrote the provision that requires the Navy to report to Congress.

“The purpose of this law is to help unmask the plume, because we’ve got a lot of questions and those questions deserve public answers, answers we will use to accelerate the comprehensive cleanup of Bethpage,” he said in a statement.

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