Crews load a dumpster with concrete blocks containing toxic chemical drums at...

Crews load a dumpster with concrete blocks containing toxic chemical drums at Bethpage Community Park last month. Credit: Neil Miller

State environmental officials have given Northrop Grumman a massive task: Dig up and cart off 70,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil from Bethpage Community Park.

But a month after the first drums filled with toxic chemicals were dug up at the park, plans for the soil removal remain vague.

Discovery of the drums prompted the state to press for faster cleanup of the former Grumman Aerospace dumping ground. The state also issued a new demand — that Grumman cart away all PCB-tainted soil.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation previously had planned to allow some tainted soil to be reburied deep underground at the park site. Last Thursday, the DEC released its most detailed description of the soil-removal plan, telling Newsday in an email: “Under DEC oversight, Northrop Grumman will be designing a remedy involving excavation and off-site disposal of soil containing PCB and metals contamination present in the Former Grumman Settling Ponds area.”

The “excavation remedy will be performed in accordance with DEC approved work plans” and will come after the “thermal remedy” that heats soil to release and capture contaminants such as volatile organic compounds, the email said.

Bethpage residents have expressed frustration for years over the slow cleanup of the park. And continuing discoveries of more chemical drums have prompted calls from local residents and others to speed the cleanup and provide more information about it.

“I don’t think anyone knows what the game plan is,” said Michael Kelly, 70, a Bethpage resident since 1992. Kelly and his wife, Clare, attended a rally at the Bethpage Library on May 2, the 22nd anniversary of the park closure. “I think that’s why people are here. We want to know what the next step is.”

Jack Delaney, 65, who helped organize the rally at the library, said contaminated soil “absolutely” should be shipped off-site. “We just want the park dealt with.”

Northrop Grumman did not respond to a request for comment.

Here's what we know about plans for the massive excavation and soil-removal program:

A 2013 DEC plan lays out the agency’s chosen remedy for the contamination in the park's ballfields and adjacent areas, where Grumman Aerospace’s settling ponds once collected toxic waste. The plan called for the removal of PCB-contaminated soil from an approximately three-acre area.  PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are human-made chemicals that have been linked to a range of adverse health effects, including cancer.

Any soil contaminated with PCBs at levels exceeding 50 parts per million — the DEC estimated it would amount to about 25,000 cubic yards — would be removed to a licensed facility that handles toxic waste. Soils with less than 50 ppm PCBs could be used as backfill more than 10 feet underground. The DEC estimated at the time that about 45,000 cubic yards of soil could be reburied but now wants that soil to be carted away along with the 25,000 cubic yards it originally said it wanted removed.

The Town of Oyster Bay has objected to that plan for years, arguing in a lawsuit against Northrop Grumman last year that burying contaminated soil would make the park a landfill. That would violate New York’s 1983 Long Island Landfill Law, the suit said.

As excavations of the drums began last month, Gov. Kathy Hochul directed the DEC to ensure that Northrop Grumman removes all soil contaminated with PCBs off-site. 

Extensive soil sampling in the park found PCB-tainted soils in the ballfields and on the south side of the park, the DEC said, as well as outside the park along the former Grumman access road. The agency said it does not expect to find more soil contaminated with PCBs.

Based on the 2013 estimates of the amounts of contaminated soil in the ballfields, the DEC now assumes that “at a minimum,” 70,000 cubic yards of soil will be trucked away. 

In a letter to Northrop Grumman written soon after the drums were discovered, outgoing DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said the agency will require Grumman “to prepare and adhere to an enforceable schedule” for the remaining work in the park, including soil removal. The company could be fined if it doesn’t follow its self-imposed timeline, according to Hochul's office.

The soil removal schedule has not been prepared or agreed upon, but the DEC told Newsday excavations won't begin immediately. Northrop Grumman must get approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for PCB removal, and the work won't start until the second phase of thermal remediation is finished. That will take at least six to eight months. 

The DEC says some areas on the south side of the park may need to be closed during excavations. 

After the soil is removed, it will be loaded onto trucks, covered and sent to a disposal facility, the DEC said. 

Excavating and carting away tens of thousands of cubic feet of contaminated soil will require extensive safety measures, such as dust suppression, air monitoring and erosion control to ensure soil doesn’t blow away or run off when it rains, the manager for one Long Island environmental remediation company said.

“When you dig, you volatilize chemicals, so you have to be sure those aren’t escaping into the community,” said the manager, who requested anonymity to comment on a project his firm isn’t involved with.

DEC officials said the work plan will outline every element of the operation, from the equipment used to the routes the trucks take, in order to minimize the impact on the community. Air monitoring stations that collect samples every few seconds will be installed up- and down-wind of the work sites. If they detect airborne particulates, soil can be dampened or surfactants added. When added to a liquid, surfactants reduce its surface tension, increasing its spreading and wetting properties.

Oyster Bay officials insist that the cleanup be completed to the “unrestricted residential” standard, which is applied to areas zoned for single-family houses. “A full, residential, unrestricted level cleanup is the only cleanup our Town and community will accept, and we have yet to hear that is their plan,” Supervisor Joseph Saladino said in a statement.

The 2013 DEC plan calls for a cleanup to the less-stringent “restricted residential” standard for cleaning up all parks in the state, according to the DEC. 

The DEC wrote in an email to Newsday: “DEC continues to hold Northrop Grumman accountable for the cleanup of Bethpage Community Park and will work with the town of Oyster Bay and the U.S. EPA to expedite the cleanup so the park can again be fully utilized by town residents.”

With Joseph Ostapiuk

State environmental officials have given Northrop Grumman a massive task: Dig up and cart off 70,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil from Bethpage Community Park.

But a month after the first drums filled with toxic chemicals were dug up at the park, plans for the soil removal remain vague.

Discovery of the drums prompted the state to press for faster cleanup of the former Grumman Aerospace dumping ground. The state also issued a new demand — that Grumman cart away all PCB-tainted soil.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation previously had planned to allow some tainted soil to be reburied deep underground at the park site. Last Thursday, the DEC released its most detailed description of the soil-removal plan, telling Newsday in an email: “Under DEC oversight, Northrop Grumman will be designing a remedy involving excavation and off-site disposal of soil containing PCB and metals contamination present in the Former Grumman Settling Ponds area.”

The “excavation remedy will be performed in accordance with DEC approved work plans” and will come after the “thermal remedy” that heats soil to release and capture contaminants such as volatile organic compounds, the email said.

Bethpage residents have expressed frustration for years over the slow cleanup of the park. And continuing discoveries of more chemical drums have prompted calls from local residents and others to speed the cleanup and provide more information about it.

“I don’t think anyone knows what the game plan is,” said Michael Kelly, 70, a Bethpage resident since 1992. Kelly and his wife, Clare, attended a rally at the Bethpage Library on May 2, the 22nd anniversary of the park closure. “I think that’s why people are here. We want to know what the next step is.”

Jack Delaney, 65, who helped organize the rally at the library, said contaminated soil “absolutely” should be shipped off-site. “We just want the park dealt with.”

Northrop Grumman did not respond to a request for comment.

Here's what we know about plans for the massive excavation and soil-removal program:

Removal of all PCB-tainted soil

A 2013 DEC plan lays out the agency’s chosen remedy for the contamination in the park's ballfields and adjacent areas, where Grumman Aerospace’s settling ponds once collected toxic waste. The plan called for the removal of PCB-contaminated soil from an approximately three-acre area.  PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are human-made chemicals that have been linked to a range of adverse health effects, including cancer.

Any soil contaminated with PCBs at levels exceeding 50 parts per million — the DEC estimated it would amount to about 25,000 cubic yards — would be removed to a licensed facility that handles toxic waste. Soils with less than 50 ppm PCBs could be used as backfill more than 10 feet underground. The DEC estimated at the time that about 45,000 cubic yards of soil could be reburied but now wants that soil to be carted away along with the 25,000 cubic yards it originally said it wanted removed.

The Town of Oyster Bay has objected to that plan for years, arguing in a lawsuit against Northrop Grumman last year that burying contaminated soil would make the park a landfill. That would violate New York’s 1983 Long Island Landfill Law, the suit said.

State to require plan, timeline, penalties

As excavations of the drums began last month, Gov. Kathy Hochul directed the DEC to ensure that Northrop Grumman removes all soil contaminated with PCBs off-site. 

Extensive soil sampling in the park found PCB-tainted soils in the ballfields and on the south side of the park, the DEC said, as well as outside the park along the former Grumman access road. The agency said it does not expect to find more soil contaminated with PCBs.

Based on the 2013 estimates of the amounts of contaminated soil in the ballfields, the DEC now assumes that “at a minimum,” 70,000 cubic yards of soil will be trucked away. 

Work start months away 

In a letter to Northrop Grumman written soon after the drums were discovered, outgoing DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said the agency will require Grumman “to prepare and adhere to an enforceable schedule” for the remaining work in the park, including soil removal. The company could be fined if it doesn’t follow its self-imposed timeline, according to Hochul's office.

The soil removal schedule has not been prepared or agreed upon, but the DEC told Newsday excavations won't begin immediately. Northrop Grumman must get approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for PCB removal, and the work won't start until the second phase of thermal remediation is finished. That will take at least six to eight months. 

The DEC says some areas on the south side of the park may need to be closed during excavations. 

After the soil is removed, it will be loaded onto trucks, covered and sent to a disposal facility, the DEC said. 

Preventing community exposure

Excavating and carting away tens of thousands of cubic feet of contaminated soil will require extensive safety measures, such as dust suppression, air monitoring and erosion control to ensure soil doesn’t blow away or run off when it rains, the manager for one Long Island environmental remediation company said.

“When you dig, you volatilize chemicals, so you have to be sure those aren’t escaping into the community,” said the manager, who requested anonymity to comment on a project his firm isn’t involved with.

DEC officials said the work plan will outline every element of the operation, from the equipment used to the routes the trucks take, in order to minimize the impact on the community. Air monitoring stations that collect samples every few seconds will be installed up- and down-wind of the work sites. If they detect airborne particulates, soil can be dampened or surfactants added. When added to a liquid, surfactants reduce its surface tension, increasing its spreading and wetting properties.

Town seeks unrestricted cleanup standard

Oyster Bay officials insist that the cleanup be completed to the “unrestricted residential” standard, which is applied to areas zoned for single-family houses. “A full, residential, unrestricted level cleanup is the only cleanup our Town and community will accept, and we have yet to hear that is their plan,” Supervisor Joseph Saladino said in a statement.

The 2013 DEC plan calls for a cleanup to the less-stringent “restricted residential” standard for cleaning up all parks in the state, according to the DEC. 

The DEC wrote in an email to Newsday: “DEC continues to hold Northrop Grumman accountable for the cleanup of Bethpage Community Park and will work with the town of Oyster Bay and the U.S. EPA to expedite the cleanup so the park can again be fully utilized by town residents.”

With Joseph Ostapiuk

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