Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and Sen. Chuck Schumer met Friday with representatives of local water districts to discuss toxic plumes emanating from a Bethpage site where the Navy and the company that is now Northrop Grumman operated for decades.
Spencer and Schumer (D-N.Y.) and members of the Bethpage, Massapequa and South Farmingdale water districts discussed the plumes, speeding up the cleanup and addressing possible radioactive contamination. A Bethpage School District representative was also in attendance.
“The Navy knows its responsibilities,” Spencer said after the gathering. “The Navy is not going anywhere. The Navy is part of this community . . . and we will do what is the right thing to do.”
Schumer and Spencer also toured a well site owned by Bethpage Water District, which has two forms of treatment in place to remove contaminants from the plumes. The district has spent millions on treatment to meet safe drinking water standards.
“We’re building facilities like this and it’s getting very expensive,” Water District Superintendent Mike Boufis told the Navy secretary during a tour at the well site on Park Lane.
Spencer is the highest-level government official to visit the region about this topic and comes on the heels of Schumer’s meeting with Defense Secretary James Mattis in July during which the two discussed the plumes.
Schumer, who is the Senate minority leader, also pressed Spencer about the contamination during his confirmation hearing earlier this year.
”As everyone knows there are 250,000 people who depend on the drinking water here and unfortunately it has been contaminated by the old plant, which the Navy worked with Grumman on,” Schumer said.
A phone call to Northrop Grumman was not returned Friday.
The National Defense Authorization Act, which is in conference to iron out differences between passed Senate and House versions of the bill, includes $323 million for the Navy’s environmental restoration fund.
Spencer said that money could be used for remediation and Schumer said he would press to make sure cleanup of the plumes is a top priority.
“We have to stop it and stop it now,” Schumer said.
Water district officials said they were encouraged that Spencer, who has been on the job six weeks, took the time to visit and listen to their concerns.
“He made a commitment to make this a priority,” said Stan Carey of Massapequa. “We welcome this like a breath of fresh air. Hopefully, going forward we can all work together.”
From the 1930s to the mid-1990s, the Navy and Northrop Grumman researched, tested and manufactured airplanes and space-exploration equipment on a more than 600-acre parcel in Bethpage.
Groundwater contamination was first documented in the 1940s and the site was added to the state Superfund list in 1983. It is subject to several state cleanup plans to remove contaminated soil and groundwater, some of which has moved more than four miles from Bethpage, reaching into Levittown and past the Southern State Parkway.
Chief among the concerns have been volatile organic chemicals, such as the carcinogen trichloroethylene, but elevated radium levels have also sparked renewed attention.