Sen. Charles Schumer is pressuring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take a more active role in the decades-long cleanup of the Navy and Northrop Grumman groundwater plume that has spread toxins more than 4 miles from Bethpage south past the Southern State Parkway.
Northrop Grumman has refused to sign a 2001 state cleanup plan to remove part of the contamination, and Schumer (D-N.Y.) yesterday sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy asking the agency to intercede. Schumer said in a statement the company "needs to end their delay tactics and clean up its fair share of this toxic plume so that Bethpage residents are not put in harm's way."
A spokeswoman for Northrop Grumman did not respond to calls or email seeking comment.
The area has long been plagued by groundwater contamination left over from decades of aviation manufacturing on a 609-acre site in Bethpage used by the Navy and what is now Northrop Grumman. Local water districts have spent millions installing treatment systems to remove pollutants before they reach residents.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation added the site to its Superfund program in 1983, according to 1994 remediation plans. Another cleanup plan issued in 2001 was signed off on by the Navy, but Northrop Grumman did not.
Bethpage Water District wells have been affected and treatment systems are in place so that drinking water standards are met. Superintendent Mike Boufis supported Schumer's request.
"His call for EPA involvement has become all too necessary to remediate the damage Northrop Grumman has caused to our water supply," he said.
Late last year, the Navy revealed it had found high levels of the degreaser trichloroethylene in Bethpage and the state ordered an investigation to determine the source and concentration of the possible carcinogen.
In November, the DEC gave Northrop Grumman 30 days to sign or make "substantive progress" toward doing so or the EPA would get involved.
Schumer's letter comes three months later and well past the deadline. It asks the EPA to issue a unilateral administrative order forcing Northrop Grumman to sign off on the plan. If not, federal courts could impose fines, order damages be paid and issue a judicial order forcing a cleanup.
"It's the next iteration in terms of enforcement authority," EPA spokesman Elias Rodriguez said of the order.
Rodriguez could not confirm the agency had the letter but said, "Obviously we recognize the seriousness of the groundwater in the Bethpage community."
DEC spokesman Thomas Mailey said Northrop Grumman had implemented many of the things required by the cleanup plan. "DEC continues to negotiate the consent order with Grumman and, at this point, we have not asked EPA to intervene," he said.
Last month, the agency explained why Northrop Grumman had not signed the plan.
"The Navy took on the responsibility for implementing the majority of the work," the agency said. "Grumman apparently believed that based on its agreement with the Navy on how the remedial work was split, there wasn't a need for the company to sign an order."