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State Legislature expected to OK bill to outlaw most use of TCE

File image of the Bethpage Water District's South

File image of the Bethpage Water District's South Park Drive Well Station for a tour in December 2015.  Credit: Steven Sunshine

ALBANY — The State Legislature on Wednesday is expected to pass a bill that would outlaw most uses of a chemical degreaser which had been used for decades on U.S. Navy aircraft and which has been a major contributor to the threat posed by the Grumman Plume to Long Island’s drinking water.

The bill is sponsored by Senate Environmental Conservation Committee chairman Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) and by Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee chairman Steven Englebright (D-Setauket). The bill, which has strong support in both chambers, would prohibit most industrial uses of trichloroethylene, or TCE, in New York state.

“TCE has been a known carcinogen and has been known to cause fetal heart defects,” Kaminsky said. “From the Grumman Plume to places in upstate New York, we need to immediately take steps to stop poisoning our water … it’s really devastating what it can do.”

The measure would ban the use of TCE as a vapor degreaser, a refrigerant, a solvent or “in other manufacturing or industrial cleaning process or use." The law would ban “the most harmful” uses of TCE.

“TCE is a widespread and dangerous contaminant,” Englebright said. “It is easily penetrating our water supply wherever it’s used.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who would have to sign the bill into law, had no comment on the measure Tuesday.

Unlike a federal proposal under the Obama administration, the state measure wouldn’t ban the use of TCE as a stain remover in dry cleaning of clothes. The Trump administration hasn’t yet enacted the federal proposal, but it is underdoing a risk assessment now after a “preliminary determination that TCE does present risks to the environment … (and) found unreasonable risk … for workers, occupational nonusers, consumers, and bystanders.”

In February, Newsday reported that aerospace giant Grumman knew as far back as the mid-1970s that chemicals it used, including TCE, were contaminating groundwater from its Bethpage facility. Records and interviews showed the corporation and government officials downplayed the pollution and did little to contain its spread from Grumman’s site through Bethpage and into neighboring communities. The plume of contaminants is 4.3 miles long, 2.1 miles wide and as much as 900 feet deep.

Cleanup efforts at the plume continue. Local taxpayers have paid more than $50 million, the Navy said it spent $130 million and Northrup Grumman, Grumman’s successor, said it spent $200 million. The state estimates it will take $585 million over 30 years in further efforts, although near eradication of the contamination won’t come for 110 years.

Grumman didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The bill states the chemical can be absorbed by breathing, eating and skin contact. “Long-term exposure is strongly linked to various types of cancer, including kidney, liver, lymphoma, testicular, and leukemia,” it says, and “some studies also indicate that TCE also causes developmental disorders in children and infants. Furthermore, short-term exposure can cause harmful effects on the nervous system, liver, respiratory system, kidneys, blood, immune system, and heart.”

State & Region