When it comes to remediating the Grumman-Navy Plume, the U.S. Navy operates at its own pace.
For its critics, that may as well be glacial.
Navy representatives and contractors unveiled their latest plume contamination test results and operational plans at the 44th twice-annual meeting of the Restoration Advisory Board (RAB). These meetings fulfill the Navy’s mandate to keep the public informed about its remediation efforts as one of the two responsible parties whose manufacturing activities contaminated Long Island’s major drinking water supply, the Magothy Aquifer.
Dozens of people gathered on April 17 at the Bethpage Community Center to listen to and question representatives of the Navy, state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the state Department of Health (DOH) and other experts.
For decades, the Grumman facilities and the Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant (NWIRP) in Bethpage designed and built legendary fighter aircraft and, as a capstone, NASA’s lunar landing module. They also produced industrial wastes in the form of volatile organic compounds (VOC), which have spread several miles from the site. The major groundwater pollutant is the widely-used industrial solvent trichloroethylene (TCE), used to clean metal parts prior to painting. It has been found at more than 8,200 parts per billion (ppb) in groundwater near the facility. Under the state’s Safe Drinking Water Act, the maximum contaminant level for TCE is 5 ppb. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists TCE as a human carcinogen.
The Navy—which owned 105 acres and leased facilities to Grumman—has been tasked by the DEC to clean up two off-site deep plumes that contain levels of TCE greater than 1,000 ppb. These, in the 2003 Record of Decision (ROD) entered to between the Navy and the DEC, were described as “hot spots.” One is named RM-38 and is situated southeast of the site. In 2009, the Navy erected a treatment facility just west of Route 135 and it has treated billions of gallons to drinking water standards while substantially reducing the contamination levels.
The other hot spot is named RE-108 and lies southwest of the site. Over the past several years at RAB meetings, Navy representatives have faced criticism from residents, water district officials and politicians over the federal government’s slow pace of remediation for this zone. The Navy has been looking for a two-acre property near the intersection of Hempstead Turnpike and Hicksville Road (Route 107) on the Bethpage-Plainedge border to build another treatment facility.
Navy officials have blamed this slow progress on the difficulty of finding a suitable property in the area, as well as the complexity of determining the extent of the plume. The Navy continues to install wells to monitor the extent and change in VOC concentrations over time.
At the April 17 meeting, the Navy said it’s close to acquiring a piece of property to finally erect a second water treatment plant.
The1.23-acre parcel is located at 11 Union Ave. in Bethpage. The current one-story building will be demolished to erect a treatment plant. The plan is to clean the extracted water to drinking standards, and then pipe it to county-owned recharge basins.
This system will be be in place by 2022. The Navy calls this Phase II of its RE-108 treatment program.
In Phase I, expected to go into operation later this year, the Navy will place an extraction well at the northern portion of the RE-108 hot spot. It will then pipe the water along an existing corridor owned by PSEG to the RM-38 treatment plant.
Asked where the leading edge of the plume was now, Murray answered that the information was being finalized and would be in the annual report to Congress that the Navy was mandated to deliver in June.
Dave Brayack, a Navy contractor, said that wells in the middle of the plume show stable readings as far as ppb of TCE, but “we are tracking some wells in the south that are increasing. [Those] give us concern. We look at how fast they are increasing. And we use that data to determine where they’re going and other decisions that need to be taken.”
In answer to another question, Brayack said that the plume is moving in a general southeastern direction at between 100 and 300 feet per year. Its leading edge, he believes, is just north of the Southern State Parkway.
Both the Massapequa and South Farmingdale water districts are expected to be impacted by the plume and have already received funding from the Navy to build treatment plants in anticipation.
There were numerous questions about radium and another “emerging contaminant,” 1,4-dioxane. The latest info by the Navy indicates that the radium is naturally occurring and is generally within federal safety levels. No source has been traced back to the Grumman plant.
As far as 1,4-dioxane, all sampling indicated that it is under the state maximum contaminant level (mcl) of 50 micrograms/liter. However, numerous wells both on and off the NWIRP site were higher than the proposed mcl of 1 microgram/l. The Navy is continuing to investigate.