Oyster Bay residents and officials are upset over the finding of chemical drums encased in concrete at Bethpage Community Park. NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost, Kendall Rodriguez; File Footage; Photo Credit: Town of Oyster Bay

Workers wearing protective gear toiled Wednesday by a pit at Bethpage Community Park where contractors found six chemical drums last week as state officials said the discovery presented “no immediate threat to public health” at the site where Grumman Aerospace dumped toxins decades ago.

A sign by the 10-by-25-foot pit read “Caution: Exclusion Zone” as the workers appeared to be handling samples and an excavator sat idle nearby — just feet from the recreation spot's shuttered skate park.

Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino visited the site Wednesday to echo his call from a day earlier for a full soil excavation on the property.

“The discovery of the drums presents no immediate threat to public health and safety at the site,” the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said in a statement.

The DEC also said Grumman Aerospace's successor, Northrop Grumman, and the company's contractors were coordinating the removal and proper disposal of the drums with the state agency, the town, the New York State Department of Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Northrop Grumman will work this week to remove concrete around the 55-gallon drums, which extends 12 feet below the surface, before transferring the drums’ contents to containers for transport off-site, according to the DEC. The agency said removing the concrete will allow workers to examine and photograph the drum exteriors, open the drums and dispose of them.

The agency said Tuesday preliminary results from drum samples suggested they contained various petroleum hydrocarbons and trichloroethene, a chlorinated solvent federal authorities moved last year to ban.

The DEC described the substances as “consistent with known historic operations” of Grumman and the U.S. Navy at the location that are the focus of the ongoing remedial effort on the property. The agency also said it will “continue to hold Northrop Grumman accountable” for the park cleanup and provide regular updates to the community.

 The DEC previously said it would use “ground-penetrating radar, as well as subsurface drilling and sampling to determine the full nature and extent of contamination” and investigate whether any more drums are buried on the site.  

Northrop Grumman didn't respond to a request for comment Wednesday. On Tuesday the company told Newsday it was working with the DEC “to assess and address this situation as quickly as possible” and remained “committed to protecting the health and well-being of the community.”

Last year the town sued Northrop Grumman, criticizing the pace and thoroughness of a cleanup on the grounds stemming from the company's 2013 agreement with the DEC to address the ballfield soil contamination.

Northrop Grumman contractors found the drums about 7 feet underground while drilling a well March 28 to check an existing soil treatment system at the park, Saladino told Newsday in an exclusive interview Tuesday.

He said some of the drums had flammable chemicals and were unearthed between the 18-acre town park's shuttered ballfield and its fenced-off skate park. Much of the park, including a playground and indoor skating rink, remains open. Town officials said Wednesday they closed the skate park in January as a precaution after Northrop Grumman's remediation work expanded in the area.  

On Wednesday, Saladino called on the DEC to mandate a full cleanup at the park by removing all soil and trucking it off Long Island. He added that a layer of clay had been found under the drums, characterizing it as “another level of precaution” taken when the drums were buried.  

Between the 1940s and 1960s, Grumman used the land for disposal of wastewater sludges and solvent-soaked rags. Grumman donated land for the park to the town in 1962 and the park was a centerpiece of the Bethpage community for decades.

Then in 2002, contamination from polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, was found in ballfield soil and the DEC — which regulates the site — discovered just how extensively it had been used as a chemical dumping ground. It was found to be a major contributor to the groundwater plume of carcinogenic chemicals that spread from former Grumman grounds and now is more than 4 miles long, 2 miles wide and 900 feet deep.

Separate from the 2013 agreement with Northrup Grumman, the DEC later made a half-billion dollar deal with Grumman and the U.S. Navy to contain and clean the plume.

But the DEC never confirmed a whistleblower's 2016 claim that in the 1990s, chemical drums had been discovered and reburied at the Bethpage park.

Saladino told Newsday on Tuesday the discovery of the drums last week showed that account was true.

On Wednesday, Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said the discovery of the drums is “alarming.” She added they pose a threat to drinking water, regardless of what chemicals are inside them, and “a full examination” of the site is needed.

Bethpage resident Khairun Rizvi, who lives close to the park, said Wednesday she wasn’t aware of the discovery of the drums.

“They should’ve sent us a letter,” said Rizvi, 31, noting Northrop Grumman previously communicated with neighbors about remediation work.

She said she noticed the skate park was closed during a visit to the park with her two children — ages 2 and 3 — but wasn’t sure of the extent of work being done nearby.

“I’m very shocked because it’s near where kids play,” Rizvi said.

With Paul LaRocco and Tracy Tullis

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Last week, contractors unearthed six 55-gallon concrete-encased chemical drums beneath Bethpage Community Park, raising new concerns about the extent of toxic pollution at the onetime Grumman Aerospace dumping grounds.
  • The DEC said Wednesday the discovery of the drums “presents no immediate threat to public health and safety at the site.”
  • A nearby neighbor expressed concern that residents hadn't been notified of the discovery of the drums.
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