Nassau County Looks to Groundwater Remediation Efforts to Combat Underground Toxic Plume Near Former Defense Plant

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An underground toxic plume is spreading in Bethpage, NY, and it has already caused significant groundwater contamination in several Long Island communities.

The plume in Bethpage is around 4.5 by 3.5 miles in size, and groundwater tests reveal that it contains potential carcinogens, such as trichloroethylene, or TCE. TCE is an industrial solvent, and it was discovered more than 60 stories below the ground. Officials say that that plume is headed south toward currently untainted public water wells.

The contamination stems from a former aerospace plant, Grumman Aerospace Corp., which was home to the U.S. Navy and other defense industries. The property is 600 acres in size, and although manufacturing ended there in 1996, its parent company, Northrop-Grumman, still maintains the facilities.

Northrop-Grumman helped develop the lunar module that brought astronauts to the moon in the 1960s. However, today they have spent $120 million on the plume remediation efforts in conjunction with the Navy, who have spent $80 million.

TCE levels have increased dramatically over time, with nearby municipal authorities and residents expressing major concerns over their communities’ safety. “We’re sitting here watching this plume move toward us,” said Stan Carey, the superintendent for the Massapequa Water District just south of Bethpage

Northrop-Grumman and the Navy have already installed water filtration plants and other groundwater remediation equipment at the site. But investigators are working to determine whether the higher levels of TCE resulted from new contamination or the pre-existing plume.

Because the site is already treating its water, authorities say that there isn’t a health risk to the public and surrounding communities. About 250,000 residents in that particular region of southeastern Nassau County would be affected by the contamination.

Residents have argued over which methods the state should use to clean up the contamination. As of now, Northrop-Grumman and the Navy use wellhead treatments to decontaminate the water in water treatment plants; others would prefer a method similar to hydraulic fracturing, where wells would be drilled at the edges of the plume to decontaminate the water and prevent it from migrating further.

That latter method would be more expensive, costing about $500 million, but has been advocated by local officials and water company experts. However, it does raise concerns for those who oppose fracking, which has been banned by more than 170 communities across the state.

The contamination and the remediation efforts have left residents concerned about their health and their local economies. Some are only drinking bottled water, and many worry about their property values going down because of the contamination.

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