Threat to Long Island Drinking Water from a Toxic Underground Plume. New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo recently ordered Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Navy to allow the State of New York (the “State”) and the Massapequa Water District (the “Water District”) to monitor wells in the Long Island communities of Bethpage, South Farmingdale, and Massapequa in an effort to test underground water alleged alleged to be part of a toxic plume.
According to Cuomo, “there have been too many questions about the extent of contamination caused by the plume and residents are frustrated with the lack of answers from the Navy and Northrop Grumman.” In addition, New York Senator Chuck Schumer stated that well testing is “just what the doctor ordered” for residents of the communities affected by the contamination.
These communities have lobbied the State for many years to take action. The plume currently measures 4.5 miles long and 3.5 miles wide. The mix of contaminants has been spreading southeast un-abated for decades. In fact, the plume crossed Hempstead Turnpike several years back and is about to cross the Southern State Parkway.
What is a toxic plume?
A toxic plume is an underground pattern of contaminant concentrations created by the movement of groundwater beneath a contaminant source, with the spreading of the contaminants in the direction of groundwater movement. Testing back from more diluted sites indicates the plume’s origin. Pursuant to current testing in the Long Island communities affected by alleged contamination, all indicators point to the long Island Grumman and Naval facilities.
To confirm this, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation plans to sample the site wells for the correlation between the Trichloroethylene, also known as TCE, in the site wells and the TCE emanating from the plume. TCE, used for decades as an industrial degreaser, is carcinogenic to humans by all avenues of exposure. In fact, a single acute exposure, as well as short term exposure, can affect a developing fetus. Moreover, high acute concentrations of TCE vapors can irritate the respiratory system and skin and cause headaches, drowsiness, and light-headedness. Repeated, or chronic and prolonged exposure has been associated with adverse effects on the liver, kidneys, immune system, and central nervous system. These facts are the cause for alarm in the Long Island communities, and for the lack of urgency exhibited by the State.
The Environmental Conservation Dept. Plans to engage in groundwater sampling by monitoring wells through compound-specific isotope analysis (“CSIA”), a process that helps to determine several factors affecting the nature, size, and other elements of the contamination. Specifically, samples collected from the field are analyzed to give information that can be valuable for assessing contaminant rate. CSIA also compares the levels of potential contaminants against naturally occurring percentages in the soil.
Local and State officials have been at odds for years as to how to contain the plume and protect Long Island’s water supplies. Initially, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation supported “post wellhead treatment, essentially allowing wells in the plume’s path to first become contaminated and then receive treatment. Critics have condemned this policy and suggest “well water extraction” or, removing the contaminants directly from the water to stop the plume’s progress before more drinking water becomes affected. This is the main reason why the state is eying The Navy and Northrop Grumman wells as ground zero for the plume.
New York’s Governor Orders the Navy and Grumman to Determine Process for Cleaning Up the “Grumman Plume”
Accountability must be affixed before the real work toward cleaning the plume can begin. There are as many methods of cleaning an aquifer as there are contaminants to pollute it. The State must determine specifically what the chemical causing the contamination is to best effect a cleanup. It is to these ends that the Governor is ordering the cooperation of the Navy and Grumman in what is being called the “Grumman Plume.”
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