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NY Governor Orders Testing for Water Contamination from Toxic Underground Plume

Apr 25, 2016

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has ordered the U.S. Navy and Northrop Grumman to provide the state and a Long Island water district access to monitoring wells so it can test for potential contamination caused by a toxic underground plume.

Samples from the so-called Grumman Plume will be tested for carcinogens by both the state and Massapequa Water District, Cuomo's office announced, the Long Island Press reports. "There have been too many questions about the extent of contamination caused by this plume and residents are frustrated with the lack of answers from the Navy and Northrop Grumman," Cuomo said in a news release.

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer said testing of wells is "just what the doctor ordered" for residents in Massapequa, Bethpage, and South Farmingdale. The plume threatens the water supply in these communities.

Residents and water district officials have been lobbying for state action for years. The plume is a 4.5-mile long by 3.5-mile wide mix of potentially harmful chemicals that has been traveling south-southeast for decades. The underground plume first crossed Hempstead Turnpike years ago and is currently on the verge of moving past the Southern State Parkway.

As recently as November 2015, Massapequa Water District president Stan Carey wrote a letter to the Navy and Northrop Grumman asking permission to sample monitoring wells to test for the "correlation between the TCE in the monitoring wells and the TCE emanating from" the plume. TCE-trichloroethylene-was used in manufacturing as a degreaser for metal parts. TCE has been classified as a human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and has been associated with an increased risk of Parkinson's disease in people with workplace exposure.

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation plans to collect groundwater samples from monitoring wells in order to test for potential contaminants through a process called compound specific isotope analysis (CSIA), officials said. The Massapequa Water District will conduct its own independent analysis. State testing could be expanded if necessary, the Press reports. The Navy has an agreement with the state DEC that calls for it to actively track down and remediate hot spots in the plume.

Local and state officials have been at odds for years about how to contain the plume and protect water supplies. For a time, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) supported "post-wellhead treatment"-allowing wells in the hazardous chemicals' path to first become contaminated, and then receive treatment, according to the Press. Critics condemned this strategy and demanded extraction wells to stop the spread of the toxic plume before it contaminated more public drinking water supplies and ultimately, the Great South Bay.

Residents in the impacted areas are dealing with the effects of waste disposal practices dating back to World War II by the former aerospace and weapons manufacturer Grumman. Grumman is credited with contributions that helped win the war, but its handling of industrial waste has since come under scrutiny. In 1983, the 600-acre Grumman Aerospace-Bethpage Facility Site was listed in the Registry of Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Sites in New York State.

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