Grumman, Navy must finish the underground cleanup


While the Northrop Grumman Corporation and the United States Navy built machinery in Bethpage to help America win a world war and put a man on the moon, never did we expect their legacy to be one of serious environmental hazard on Long Island. Over the past few weeks, the dangerous environmental legacy of Grumman and the Navy has earned a top spot in local newspaper headlines and on the nightly news throughout the tristate area, and even overseas.

For more than 50 years, Northrop Grumman manufactured aircraft and spacecraft on 600 acres of property in Bethpage while dumping chemical waste into the soil. An investigation in 2020 revealed that the company had been aware of the hazards posed to our environment as early as the 1970s, but failed to disclose them to the public. In fact, Northrop Grumman officials even denied responsibility for the pollution.

When the corporation closed its Bethpage operations in 1998 and moved 20,000 jobs to other states, Long Island began to learn of the decades of toxic chemicals left behind in our community. The 16 chemical drums recently unearthed in Bethpage Community Park are just the tip of the iceberg. It’s clear that these drums were deliberately buried at the site as they were sealed in concrete coffins — which is highly uncommon, according to environmental experts.

The drums contain toxic chemicals, and preliminary test results show that their contents match the contaminants found in the adjacent soil. Even worse, we expect more to be found in the coming weeks.

For over 20 years, it’s been widely known that chemicals dumped into the ground by Northrop Grumman and the Navy have been threatening our water supply in the form of an underground plume. Bethpage Community Park is just one of the contaminated sites in our area that has contributed to the plume.

Thankfully, local water districts have successfully treated our drinking water at the tap. But this treatment has come at great expense to local taxpayers. Millions of dollars have been spent thus far to clean our water before it arrives at our homes. Grumman and the Navy should be forced to fully reimburse taxpayers for these costs.

Over 250,000 Long Islanders now live in the cone of influence from the plume — a population two and a half times the size of the one at risk in the nationally reported water crisis in Flint, Michigan. The plume continues to spread by about a foot a day. That’s the rate at which groundwater moves south, putting the Great South Bay at risk.

Simply put, we are in a race against time to install the proper infrastructure to prevent Grumman’s pollution from reaching deeper into the freshwater aquifer from which we derive our drinking water.

Northrop Grumman and the Navy have been given too much time and flexibility to clean up their mess. For that reason, the Town of Oyster Bay filed a lawsuit against Northrop Grumman last September. We are now forcing Grumman to move forward with radar scans to determine where additional contaminants may be in Bethpage Park. At the same time, we are forming bipartisan coalitions with members of Congress, state officials, water districts, trades unions and environmental groups. Together, we are fighting for you.

With strict new federal guidelines for drinking water recently approved to protect our health, and with the underground plume moving at a foot per day, it’s more imperative than ever for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to hold Northrop Grumman and the Navy fully accountable for a thorough and complete investigation of contaminated grounds, strict and timely removal of all contaminated soils, and the full financial expense of restoring Mother Earth.

We should never expect less. Just as Long Islanders raced to win a world war and put a man on the moon, our federal and state governments must race with even greater speed to protect our health, save our drinking water and protect the people in our community.

Joseph Saladino is supervisor of the Town of Oyster Bay.