Drums of chemicals exhumed from Bethpage Community Park sit in...

Drums of chemicals exhumed from Bethpage Community Park sit in yellow containers last week. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

A simple and scary calculation emerged this month in an endless grappling with the toxic materials that Grumman Aerospace dumped and buried in Bethpage many years ago.

Officials who measure and monitor the affected site reported that the famous plume of contamination there continues to move south at the rate of about a foot every day.

Perhaps more jarring — after years of expensive and extensive cleanup, water supply protection, monitoring and bureaucratic jostling — is that the precise extent and details of the dumping are still being discovered.

Last week, workers removed what they’d just found to be 16 concrete-encased drums from Grumman’s one-time chemical dumping ground, New York State and Oyster Bay officials said.

On March 28, contractors found six concrete-encased 55-gallon drums about four feet down. Two more concrete layers were discovered underneath. It happened as the Northrop Grumman contractors drilled a well on the former ballfields at Bethpage Community Park — as a way of checking an already existing soil treatment system at the park.

Tests proved the drums contained waste petroleum and chlorinated solvents. According to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the chemicals are “consistent with known historic operations” of Grumman and the U.S. Navy.

Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino is reacting the right way. He’s prodding the state, the company and the federal government to adjust and expand their cleanup plans. The latest discovery proves the situation “is far worse” than Grumman had let on, he said. Restricting the focus of remedial work to the park’s ballfield without taking in the rest of the park will not be enough.

“We have to go much further to force Grumman to excavate all contaminated soil and ship it off Long Island,” he said. “It proves that we need a full remediation and a full evaluation of drums anywhere and everywhere.” Protecting the island’s sole-source aquifer is at stake.

Now come reports that in 2016, a tipster told the DEC that he remembered large drums discovered in the early 1990s during excavation work and later reburied in an area near the facility’s skate park and ballfield.

The DEC called it unfounded. Now officials must explain how that happened.

Going forward, officials should actively seek out former employees who may recall other buried Grumman barrels.

For resources and the federal focus required, Rep. Tom Suozzi and former Rep. Peter King previously worked across the aisle, and now Suozzi and Reps. Andrew Garbarino and Anthony D’Esposito are expected to keep up the push.

Perhaps a single bureaucrat should be empowered to wrestle with the plume. Certainly, the state DEC should ride herd on Grumman for the proper radar scans and deep soil sampling. Solutions are long-term and require coordination. This mission won't be over for a long time. But discovery and cleanup need to move more quickly. Our health and environment require it.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.


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