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Northrop Grumman contamination gets only worse as cleanup lags

A graphic map of the Bethpage Plume. PPM

A graphic map of the Bethpage Plume. PPM represents parts per million of total volatile organic compounds. Credit: Newsday/Gustavo Pabón

Officials in the Bethpage Water District were not surprised when new areas of contamination were discovered recently at the former manufacturing site operated by Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Navy. Nor will they be surprised, they say, when still other polluted areas are uncovered in the future.

The inevitability of that speaks volumes about the awfulness of the massive amount of chemicals dumped in the ground, the plume that has radiated outward from the site in the years since, and the inadequacy of the response by Northrop Grumman, in particular, and the Navy. The heel-dragging in response to demands to clean it up even as the mess threatened public health and water is unforgivable.

Among chemicals found in the new discovery was the solvent trichloroethylene, a carcinogen, at concentrations up to 15 times greater than the state Department of Environmental Conservation's cleanup targets. The contamination lies in soil, fortunately not yet in groundwater, just outside a former ballfield long known to be polluted. Closed for years, the field is due to be cleaned up in 2020; water district officials say the system in place can handle part of the new contamination but probably not all. Further delays in cleaning known pollution spots are unacceptable.

The sad truth about Bethpage is that decades later, the full extent of this environmental disaster still has not been charted. So even as the technology for testing and remediation gets better every year, treating the contamination gets no easier. The problem will continue to grow. So must the effort to combat it. — The editorial board