A federal judge this week tossed out part of a lawsuit Bethpage Water District filed against Northrop Grumman over groundwater contamination plaguing the supplier.
Magistrate Judge Anne Shields at U.S. District Court in Central Islip sided with the defense contractor, saying the water district filed too late to meet statute of limitation requirements for the contamination found around a well site on Sophia Street — where district officials said elevated levels of radium forced them to close down the pump.
The part of the lawsuit concerning the contamination at the Park Lane well site will be allowed to continue.
The water district filed the lawsuit in 2013 but amended the case last year, seeking an unspecified amount to cover costs of existing and future groundwater treatment facilities to remove contamination, including volatile organic chemicals, the oxidizer perchlorate and radium.
The groundwater plumes have been traced to about 600 acres in Bethpage where the Navy and what is now Northrop Grumman operated research, testing, design, fabrication and assembly plants from the 1940s until 1998. The sites are listed in the state Superfund program and are subject to several cleanup plans.
Contaminated groundwater was first documented in the 1940s, and the water district has spent millions of dollars treating groundwater to create drinking water for nearly 33,000 residents. About $350,000 has been spent on the lawsuit, a district spokeswoman said.
Shields dismissed Bethpage’s claim because state law requires such suits about toxins to be filed within three years of discovery. She said evidence presented in the case show the three years would have begun in November 2009 at the latest, meaning the district would have had to file suit by November 2012, not one year later.
“We’re disappointed in the decision,” said Robin Greenwald, who represents Bethpage. “We disagree and we’re going to be filing the appropriate objections.”
Northrop Grumman spokesman Vic Beck declined to comment because the case is still being litigated.
In 2014, the Navy announced it had found the carcinogenic solvent trichloroethylene, or TCE, about 2,100 feet from the Park Lane well site. Federal drinking water guidelines for TCE are set at 5 parts per billion and the Navy well found the concentration of TCE to be 4,600 parts per billion.
Bethpage Water District Superintendent Mike Boufis called the decision a minor setback. “I really think we have a strong case,” he said. “We’re going to move forward with it.”
Both sides have said they have filed more than 2 million pages of documents so far in the case.
In its request to dismiss the case, Northrop Grumman said the claims were time-barred and the district “alleged and admitted that it identified a need to upgrade its [Sophia Street] water supply system over three years before this action was commenced.”
But in response filings, Bethpage said the fact of when the statute of limitation begins should be up to a jury. The district said spotty data from Northrop Grumman, not knowing the true delineation of the contamination and other studies, did not paint a full picture. The water supplier said being proactive should not start the clock. The district “could not and should not have risked public health by waiting until contaminants enter its vital wells, overwhelming existing treatment systems and entering its distribution system,” court documents said.