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OpinionEditorial

Welcome action on the Bethpage plume

Work being done in June at the Bethpage

Work being done in June at the Bethpage Ballpark — a dumping ground for a Grumman facility that contributed to the toxic plume. Credit: Jeffrey Basinger

For decades, good news was tough to find in the fight against the expanding plume of groundwater contamination from the former Grumman manufacturing plant in Bethpage.

But momentum has been changing recently, especially with state intervention. Now the U.S. Navy, which co-owned the site with Grumman, has provided an added boost by embracing major elements of a state-proposed containment plan to stop the plume before it reaches Massapequa and the Great South Bay.

This is terrific, if overdue, news and shows the Navy is docked in the right port, at last.

The Navy and state Department of Environmental Conservation are working out details like where exactly the Navy will place as many as four extraction wells on the southern edge of the plume, and two new treatment systems. But neither the need for the wells nor their approximate positioning is an issue any longer. Just as encouraging: the apparent willingness of Northrop Grumman to sign on to most of the state’s plan. Hopefully, this new push will begin to slow, and treat, a plume that is now more than 4.3 miles long, 2.1 miles wide and 900 feet deep, contains carcinogens, and moves relentlessly southward at 1 foot per day.

Lots of credit is due for reaching this point. Aggressive containment has been sought for years by water district officials in Bethpage, and later, in South Farmingdale, Massapequa and Levittown as the plume migrated. Then-Assemb. Joseph Saladino got legislation passed in 2014 requiring the DEC to prepare a cleanup plan. Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Tom Suozzi have been ratcheting up pressure on the Navy to increase its commitment. And Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the DEC have played an effective game of hardball in devising a $585 million treatment plan and vowing to implement it and bill Grumman and the Navy for the work.

The events in Bethpage should serve as a model for a similar situation unfolding in Calverton, where groundwater contamination spreading from another former Grumman operation is again being met with Navy recalcitrance.

The Navy won’t test beyond a 1-mile radius from the site despite math showing the contamination likely has spread farther and could have reached private wells in the area. Testing at the property’s perimeter found concentrations of possible carcinogenic PFAS chemicals as high as 36 times the state standard. Suffolk County testing of private wells in the area found at least one with a PFOS/PFOA concentration nearly 10 times the state limit. Making matters worse, the Navy says its actions will be governed by the Department of Defense standard of 40 parts per trillion, not the state’s more rigorous limit of 10 ppt. That’s wrong. The Navy should use the tighter limit, expand its testing, start the cleanup, and help connect private well-owners to public water.

In other words, the Navy should learn from its own example. Smaller problems deferred become bigger problems later. That’s a grave concern when the problem is the safety and cleanliness of the water people drink.

— The editorial board

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