The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is drilling an exploratory well on the Wantagh-Seaford border. The project is part of the state’s ongoing investigation into possible options that the U.S. Navy and Northrop Grumman might have to contain and clean up a highly toxic chemical plume that has made its way south underground from Bethpage for decades.
Activists and government officials said that the plume, a slurry of potentially cancer-causing chemicals, is moving steadily through the groundwater. They cite the one-time Grumman property in Bethpage, where, according to the Bethpage Water District website, chemicals called chlorinated hydrocarbons were used to clean the metal aircraft parts that Grumman produced after World War II.
The flow of toxins, which the DEC began investigating in the 1980s, has also forced the construction of several water-remediation plants, including at the South Farmingdale Water District’s well on Route 107 in Seaford. While DEC officials said that the contamination has not yet spread to Wantagh and Seaford, they began drilling a deep groundwater monitoring well on Seamans Neck Road this summer as part of a study that will examine how to clean up the contamination.
A well of information
In February, Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed the DEC to launch an engineering investigation to contain the plume. The DEC is investing $1.47 million to drill the wells and perform the analysis. In addition, DEC officials said that they partnering with the U.S. Geological Survey to launch a $400,000 groundwater flow-modeling program.
The well is being drilled near the leading edge of the plume over six weeks. Officials explained that groundwater in these areas has contaminant concentrations at or below the federal drinking-water standard.
Seaford is more than 2.5 miles south of the leading edge of the groundwater plume, while Wantagh is nearly two miles southwest. The underground plume is estimated to be nearly three miles long and one mile wide.
The DEC has asked the Town of Oyster Bay to drill another well on property on North Park Drive, in North Massapequa, which is now used as a stormwater recharge basin. Officials expect to begin the project in September.
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos toured the Wantagh-Seaford construction site on Aug. 10. He said that the well would provide valuable data that officials will use to assess expedited cleanup options — including full containment of the plume — in order to protect the public and the environment from contamination.
“Through Governor Cuomo’s leadership,” Seggos said, “the DEC is expanding ongoing remedial activities to fully inform the state’s investigation and will explore every available option to contain and remove the contamination impacting critical drinking-water resources in this community as quickly and thoroughly as possible. New York state is aggressively investigating this contamination, and will not rest until the polluters are held accountable for containing the spread of this plume and finally cleaning up their mess.”
The DEC’s environmental consultant, HDR, began drilling the first well, which will be 800 feet deep, on July 27. It is being paid for by the state Superfund program. State officials said that they would seek to recover all the costs from the polluters.
As the well boring is advanced, samples are being collected to evaluate groundwater quality and flow. Data from 4,300 groundwater samples will be compiled into a single database to develop three-dimensional plume representations, which will be incorporated into the USGS model and serve as a basis of comparison when evaluating different remedial scenarios, officials said.
The USGS model will allow officials to evaluate how potential groundwater extraction and discharge scenarios would affect plume migration and groundwater. This modeling is a critical component of the DEC’s feasibility study, officials said, and will be used to select a remedy to address the plume.
A DEC-approved community air-monitoring program is being implemented during the drilling to provide protection downwind of the work area from airborne contaminants that could be released. The work poses no exposure risk to local residents, officials said.
Local leaders react
Elected leaders who represent Wantagh and Seaford applauded the DEC’s work. U.S. Rep. Peter King, a Republican from Seaford, said he would continue his efforts to ensure the safety of communities near the plume.
State Sen. Kemp Hannon commended the DEC and the governor. “We need to ensure the contamination from the Navy and Grumman does not threaten additional drinking water wells,” he said. “Our actions to hold polluters accountable and to use Superfund resources is crucial in protecting the public from groundwater contamination.”
State Sen. John Brooks, a Democrat from Seaford, said that the project is imperative to protect the health of Long Islanders. He said there needs to be an aggressive plan to contain the plume.
“Partial, opaque reports from Northrop Grumman on radioactive contamination, along with excuses and stonewalling, will no longer be tolerated by the people of New York state or those who represent them,” Brooks said. “This has been an issue for far too long, and I look forward to working with Governor Cuomo on eliminating the threat to Long Island’s drinking water.”
Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Navy, under multiple consent orders and agreements with the state, are cleaning up the contamination at the state Superfund site. The DEC is requiring them to remediate soil and groundwater contamination.
The DEC will host a community meeting this fall to discuss preliminary modeling data and containment options, and address any questions and concerns from community members. The date, time and location of the hearing have yet to be determined.