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Painful lessons for Long Island from the Bethpage district plume

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks about the Bethpage

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks about the Bethpage Water District plume in Farmingdale on Dec. 21. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The news was both expected and sobering.

The Bethpage Water District must shut down and replace five of its nine wells because of the groundwater plumes emanating from the manufacturing facility once operated by Northrop Grumman Corp. and the U.S. Navy.

The price tag: $17 million. That’s on top of the millions already spent, and tens of millions more in the future, to treat drinking water contaminated by volatile organic compounds, 1,4-dioxane and other pollutants. And this decades-long nightmare keeps expanding; the plume is 4 miles long and nearly 2 miles wide, covers about two-thirds of the water district, and moves southeast about a foot per day.

Bethpage is the most graphic example of Long Island’s special curse: Our region has used the source of our drinking water as a disposal site, too. And those contaminants are reaching our water.

Bethpage’s problems were compounded by a lack of cooperation in the cleanup from the Navy at times and especially from Northrop Grumman, a lack of support from many elected leaders who represent the area, and a lack of energy from state officials. Now, the politicians, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo are fully engaged. Rep. Thomas Suozzi wants the Navy to buy the three well sites to be closed, a good idea that would help the district with its costs and allow the Navy to use the sites for remediation. And the water district awaits a DEC feasibility study expected in two months that will lay out a plan to finally contain the plume so it does not spread to neighboring water districts. The proposal must be thorough and aggressive.

“It’s too late for Bethpage,” water district superintendent Mike Boufis said. But not for the rest of Long Island that must learn the long, costly and painful lesson of Bethpage: What we put in the ground ends up in our water, and it’s not easy to get it out.— The editorial board