The Northrop Grumman groundwater plume that originated in Bethpage is spreading, forcing officials to begin treating drinking water wells as far as 4 miles away in Levittown and to install 31 more monitoring devices in an effort to learn the distance the contamination has spread.
The monitoring wells are being installed by the Navy, which operated the Bethpage site along with Northrop Grumman, principally in areas north of Hempstead Turnpike and north and south of the Southern State Parkway in the towns of Oyster Bay and Hempstead. Two wells also will be installed in South Farmingdale and Massapequa to screen for contaminants. All of the monitoring devices are to be installed by 2016.
"We're trying to determine the extent of it," said Lora Fly, remedial project manager for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, which is overseeing the Navy's cleanup responsibilities. "We're hoping to find an end point."
Pollution spans decades
For decades, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the Navy, Northrop Grumman and area water districts have struggled with soil and groundwater contamination that stemmed from the Bethpage facility.
The Navy and what was then Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corp. operated the 609-acre site in Bethpage, producing such aircraft as the Hellcat fighter plane and the Apollo Lunar Module, starting in the 1940s.
Production stopped in 1998, but not before solvents, cadmium, volatile organic chemicals and other contaminants found their way into the aquifers, the source of Long Island's drinking water.
Two drinking water wells in Levittown were closed in July 2013 after the discovery of low concentrations of Freon, a chemical used in cooling and refrigeration, and trichloroethylene, or TCE, a solvent used to degrease machinery that can be associated with cancer. The levels were within drinking water standards but Hempstead water officials did not want to take a chance.
"It's not a club anybody wants to be in for sure, but we're living with the results of our industrial past," said John Reinhardt, commissioner of Hempstead's Department of Water, which oversees the Levittown wells.
At its meeting last month, the Hempstead Town Board approved a bid to build an air stripper to remove pollutants from the drinking water at a well along Wantagh Avenue and Entry Lane. The system is expected to cost $2.5 million, Reinhardt said.
Design work for treatment at another well about 1,200 feet to the west of the one on Entry Lane is out to bid.
"We don't like to put out any contaminants in our water," Reinhardt said.
Northrop Grumman is also investigating the plume, but representatives for the defense contractor declined to answer questions about the plume and cleanup activities.
"Northrop Grumman has been addressing environmental issues in Bethpage for many years and remains committed to that effort," Northrop spokeswoman Christine Restani said in a statement. "We continue to work closely and cooperatively with the state."
But the DEC has told Bethpage residents that a consultant working on behalf of Grumman would be investigating sites and installing monitoring wells.
Last month, trucks rolled up to the Broadway house of Darren and Michele Rastelli in Bethpage without notice and began drilling, from 7 a.m. until after 5 p.m. for several weekdays, they said.
"I had to chase the guy down the street," Michele Rastelli said. "I said, 'Who are you?' He said, 'I'm not at liberty to say.' " The drilling started along their sidewalk and went into the yard.
Someone eventually gave them a sheet describing what the consultant was doing.
"All of my neighbors are furious," Michele Rastelli said. "Give us some idea of what's going on."
Chemicals found in 1947
Contamination was first documented in what is now a Bethpage Water District well in 1947 when hexavalent chromium was discovered. In 1975, county health officials found that persistent taste and odor issues in the water were due to vinyl chlorides and tetrachloroethylene, or PCE.
In 1983, the Grumman site and Navy operations were added to the state's Superfund program, according to a 1994 state document ordering the first phase of cleanup to address the plume.
A second cleanup plan was issued in 2001 and a third in 2013 to address a hot spot plume of contaminants emanating from Bethpage Community Park.
After the Navy disclosed that it found levels of TCE up to 4,600 parts per billion in a monitoring well north of Hempstead Turnpike, the DEC gave the Navy in November 60 days to come up with a design and work plan to deal with the new contamination. The drinking level standard for TCE is 5 parts per billion.
Also that month, the DEC told Northrop Grumman to sign the second cleanup plan, which the defense contractor had refused to do.
The Navy said it has missed the deadline because wells are still being drilled to get a sense of the contamination, said Thomas Kreidel, Navy remediation spokesman. "Due to the complex and extensive nature of the groundwater impacts the work plan will be somewhat of a 'living document' subject to be modified as new data is obtained," he said.
More testing wells slated
Besides the 31 monitoring wells that the Navy is installing, the agency also is putting in another seven one-time-use groundwater testing wells, which will go down as deep as 1,000 feet. All of these wells are in addition to 20 monitoring wells and 17 groundwater borings that were installed beginning in 2012.
In December, the Massapequa Water District applied to the DEC for a new water supply well. The district has not been impacted by the plume but is in line to get hit. "Every day that goes by, it's another foot or two closer," Superintendent Stan Carey said. "We wanted an option to get out of the plume's path."
Also that month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation that directed the DEC to expedite cleanup efforts, report to the legislature a schedule and design timetable, and to fully remediate the plume.
Assemb. Joseph Saladino (R-Massapequa) sponsored the bill and wants the state to use wells to extract the contaminants, treat the water and then reinject into the aquifers. "Dilution is not taking place," Saladino said. "We must act to fully clean up the plume to remediate the contaminants before they contaminate others wells and other communities."
DEC officials plan to meet this month to figure out how to address the legislation. Saladino's plan is something that was examined in the first cleanup plan in 2001. "What we're being asked to do is to evaluate that again," a DEC official said.
Bethpage water officials said they appreciate the support of the community and local legislators.
"The [DEC] must hold Northrop Grumman accountable for causing a legacy of contamination and for its complete disregard for the health, safety and welfare of a community that was instrumental to its success," Superintendent Michael Boufis said in a statement. "It is time the DEC be forced to take action that will rid the burden from Bethpage residents once and for all."