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New game plan needed for Northrop Grumman plume

Northrop Grumman contractors drill at the corner of

Northrop Grumman contractors drill at the corner of William Street and Broadway in Bethpage on Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015, as part of an ongoing investigation of a decades-old plume emanating from former manufacturing sites run by the Navy and what is now Northrop Grumman. Credit: Barry Sloan

The Bethpage Water District just held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate opening a new well. The festive occasion was actually a response to grim reality. The district needs to find sources of water outside the ever-spreading Northrop Grumman plume.

The water the district delivers to customers is clean, but the treatment it performs at five wells to achieve purity gets more difficult and expensive as time passes. Bethpage is suing Northrop Grumman for millions of dollars in reimbursement. The time has come for a different remedy.

Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Navy, whose former defense plant is the source of the plume, should give the district money to open new wells outside the contamination area. The district would give its current wells to the company and the Navy, whose efforts to clean and contain the plume via wells on their old factory site have been insufficient. Pumping and treating water from Bethpage’s wells, which are south of the site, would help. The district first pitched the idea to state environmental officials six years ago. It’s out-of-the-box thinking and complicated, but it could be accomplished in a truly cooperative effort.

But that does not characterize Northrop Grumman’s response to date. Besides its refusal to reimburse the district — which the Navy has agreed to do — the defense contractor has been reluctant to share information from its monitoring wells in a timely way, part of the district’s ongoing federal lawsuit against the company. Now the Massapequa Water District is asking to test the wells to see whether contamination it is finding is traceable back to the plume, which is moving toward Massapequa. That access should be promptly granted to help fight an environmental nightmare that has plagued the area for 30 years and shows no signs of abating.