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Navy must get on board with cleanup for Northrop Grumman plume

A map displays the state Department of Environmental

A map displays the state Department of Environmental Conservation's $585M plan for cleanup and containment of the groundwater plume that has spread from the former 600-acre Northrop Grumman and Navy site in Bethpage, as seen on June 10, 2019. Credit: John Roca

Now the U.S. Navy has joined Northrop Grumman in objecting to the state's plan to once and for all contain and clean up the awful plume emanating from the Bethpage facilities they once operated.

Perhaps this was predictable. It surely is unfortunate. And it's misguided.

The Navy says the state's 30-year, $585 million plan — which would use a series of new wells, pipes and treatment plants to remove contaminants from the water and stop the plume's movement before it reaches water districts outside Bethpage — is not based on science. But it is; the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Geological Survey developed a state-of-the-art model for groundwater and contamination flow based on decades of data.

The Navy says the plan would interfere with current remediation that is protecting human health and that the state has not considered whether the cost is "proportional to the overall effectiveness" of the plan. But Grumman and the Navy estimate their cleanup costs so far at $331 million, and for what? The plume is bigger than ever — 4.3 miles long, 2.1 miles wide and 900 feet deep. It continues to move south at 1 foot per day. It contains two dozen contaminants, including the carcinogen trichloroethene, and the likely carcinogen 1,4-dioxane, which cannot be removed from water by conventional means. How proportional has the money they've spent been to their plan's effectiveness?

The treatment plan followed by Northrop Grumman and the Navy has failed. It's past time for something new. The DEC's plan is ambitious and backed by science. The agency should pursue it. And then our state and federal representatives must make sure Northrop Grumman and the Navy pay for it.  — The editorial board


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