Chemical drums buried at Bethpage Community Park are being removed. The DEC said the drums do not present any health threats to the public.  Credit: Peter Frutkoff

Workers began removing six 55-gallon drums containing waste petroleum and chlorinated solvents from Bethpage Community Park on Monday.

The drums were discovered two weeks ago in the park's former ballfields while remediation workers were drilling in the area. They were encased in concrete and had not been leaking, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Lab results showed the drums contain waste petroleum and trichloroethylene (TCE), a chlorinated solvent that is a known carcinogen.

The DEC repeated that “the discovery of the drums presents no immediate threat to public health and safety at the site.”

The area where the drums were found once served as Grumman Aerospace’s sludge settling pools, and other parts of the property served as a dump for solvent-soaked rags and other toxic materials. In 1962, the company gave the land to the town on condition that it be used as a park, which was then built on top of contaminated soil and groundwater.

On Monday morning, heavy equipment arrived and began digging in the pit where the drums lay buried about 4 feet below the surface.

By late afternoon, all six concrete blocks encasing the drums had been removed from the pit. But as the workers were removing the blocks, they found additional concrete structures directly underneath, according to Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino. 

The blocks buried deeper “resemble what was above,” he said, and he assumes they contain more drums full of chemicals. He said the contractors, hired by Grumman to excavate the drums, will dig out the second layer of concrete blocks in the next several days.

The first six drums have been moved to special dumpsters where they will be tested, and then taken to an out-of-state site that handles hazardous waste.

“We’ve known all along we’ve found the graveyard of Grumman’s sins,” Saladino told Newsday. He said the town will continue to insist that Grumman investigate “every square inch of the park to ensure that this park is safe for our residents.”

In a letter to Northrop Grumman on Friday, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos acknowledged the company’s “prompt actions to expeditiously remove the six drums and their contents” and said the DEC would assist the company in “additional investigation activities to explore and if necessary, remove additional drums from the park.”

The DEC had said after the discovery it would direct remediation workers to use ground-penetrating radar to explore the area. In a statement last week the agency said it “will continue to oversee cleanup activities at this location to determine the full nature and extent of contamination and the presence of any additional drums buried beneath the site.”

In his letter to Northrop Grumman, Seggos also said the DEC expects the company to remove “all PCP-contaminated soil” off-site. An earlier cleanup plan had allowed the soil to be replaced “as backfill in deep parts of the excavation.” He directed the company to work with the DEC’s Division of Environmental Remediation to develop a plan for the additional work.

A lawsuit the Town of Oyster Bay filed against Northrop Grumman in September argues that reburying contaminated soil makes the park a landfill, which would be illegal. The suit demands complete removal of contaminated soil.

Seggos concluded his letter to Northrop Grumman by writing that the baseball field has been closed for more than 20 years, “a daily reminder to the community that the cleanup is incomplete.” He said that when the park cleanup is complete, the DEC will require the company to build a new baseball field for the town. 

Northrop Grumman did not respond immediately to a request for comment Monday.

With Paul LaRocco and Joe Ostapiuk

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