Bethpage Water District Blog

Friday, June 1, 2012

What You Should Know About the Northrop Grumman/Navy Plume

The Northrop Grumman (Grumman) manufacturing facility, comprised of approximately 635 acres, was acquired by the Grumman Corporation in the early 1930’s. The United States Navy (Navy) owned 105 of the total property. The Navy leased its property and buildings to Grumman for research and manufacturing purposes. Grumman used its property for various military manufacturing purposes. The company developed and manufactured Navy fighter planes and amphibious landing craft from the 1930’s up to the end of World War II.

After World War II, Grumman produced jet aircraft such as the F-14, space vehicles for NASA, military electronic surveillance aircraft and civilian corporate jets. Today, Grumman does not conduct any manufacturing operations on the property.

During the manufacturing process, various chemicals called chlorinated hydrocarbons were used to clean metal parts prior to painting. The waste chemicals were disposed of in sumps or leaching pools and allowed to drain into the soil. Some chemicals were stored in metal drums that were ultimately buried on the site or transported off site to other disposal areas. During this time, there were no specific environmental protection laws that would have prevented this activity.

In the early 1970’s, Grumman employees noticed an unusual taste and odor emanating from water faucets located on the site, inclusive of the Navy owned facilities. At this time, Grumman operated its own self contained water supply system and was not connected to the Bethpage Water District system. The taste and odor condition was reported to State and County health departments. Testing by Grumman and the health agencies confirmed that the Grumman water well system was contaminated by a chemical called trichloroethene (TCE). In 1976, Grumman then asked the Bethpage Water District to permit connection to the public water supply. After 1976, the Grumman onsite supply wells were no longer used for human consumption but continued to be used for industrial and cooling purposes.

In 1994, the Northrop Corporation purchased Grumman and renamed itself the Northrop Grumman Corporation. Shortly thereafter, Grumman began winding down manufacturing activities on the site and began selling pieces of its land to smaller companies. At the same time, Navy operations were terminated and moved to the Grumman facility in Suffolk County at Calverton.

The current environmental investigation of the Grumman and Navy properties began in late 1980’s. Grumman and the Navy agreed to conduct an investigation under the guidance of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC). The investigation spanned a period from 1989 to 1994. The Bethpage public, including the Bethpage Water District had no notice of the investigation until December of 1990 when the Water District was notified that the NYSDEC would inform the public of the status of the environmental investigation. As required by law the notice was given to the Town of Oyster Bay 24 hours before the public meeting. Fortunately, the Town notified the Water District and representatives of the Water District were able to prepare and attend the meeting. (See news report of the meeting). Since that time, representatives of the Water District have attended every meeting and have monitored the numerous reports generated by the various investigations. The reports, which fill eight large boxes, are available for public review at the Bethpage Public Library.


In 1976 at the time of the discovery of the contamination in Grumman onsite supply wells, the Bethpage Water District conducted water quality testing of all of its well sites. Contamination, significantly less than the current Federal and State standards was discovered in one of the District’s eight wells known as well 6-1 located on Motor Avenue. While still below the State and Federal guidelines for public use, the District commissioners removed the well from service for further study. The test results showed small amounts of TCE, the same chemical that forced the closure of the onsite Grumman wells. No other District wells showed any evidence of contamination at any level. However, in 1984 the District commissioners began to suspect that the TCE may be emanating from the Grumman/Navy property. District counsel met with attorneys in charge of environmental protection from the State Attorney General’s office. The discussions resulted in the State’s attorneys telling the District that there was not sufficient proof that the contamination found in the District’s well came from the Grumman/Navy property. 

Therefore, in conjunction with the planning and feasibility study to install treatment on well 6-1, the District began its own investigation of the source of the contaminants. Using then recent data compiled by the Unites States Geologic Survey, it became clear that the path of the contaminants lead straight back to the Grumman/Navy property. In 1988, the Water District designed and installed an air stripping treatment facility to remove the TCE from the water supply. Shortly thereafter, the District disclosed its findings to the NYSDEC and Grumman. In 1990, Grumman agreed to pay for the entire cost of the treatment facility along with annual operating costs of the treatment system. 

From that point to the present day, the Bethpage Water District has participated in every investigation conducted by both Grumman and the Navy. We have commented on proposed remedies and we have criticized the slow and inadequate results of the various multimillion dollar investigations. While our comments regarding the protection of the public water supply were addressed, our comments regarding more aggressive remediation of the entire plume were largely disregarded as “not cost effective”. During the years 1994 and 1995, both Grumman and the Navy paid for treatment facilities at two additional Water District well sites that, while not yet affected by the contamination, were clearly in the path of the southeastern flow of the Grumman/Navy plume. 

With District well sites protected and producing water quality that contained no detectable levels of contamination, the District stayed involved to insure the construction of a Navy owned remediation facility located at the Motor Parkway and Broadway, the location of an offsite “hot spot”. That system was placed on line in 2010 and continues to remove contaminants from the groundwater. In addition, in 2009 District counsel attended a public meeting conducted by the Navy. At that meeting, the Water District commented on elevated levels of contaminates contained in soils located in close proximity to the Grumman/Navy fence line on 11th Street. As a result of the significant concerns of the Water District, the New York State Department of Health was called in to design a residential testing program that ultimately discovered elevated levels of TCE in the basements of some homes on 11th Street. The Navy has since installed treatment systems in the affected homes that are successfully removing the exposure threat from each home. 


In 1995, the Water District, supported by Bethpage residents from the “number streets”, requested that the Navy test the soils at the Bethpage Community Park and surrounding area for TCE and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) contamination. The Navy did token sampling in the residential neighborhood and did one test in the Community Park. While the park sample tested positive for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s), the results were considered too low to warrant further investigation. Over the objection of the Water District, further investigation was abandoned by the NYSDEC. However, in 2005, Grumman agreed to perform additional testing in the Community Park that ultimately disclosed significant levels of PCB’s and TCE in Park soils. A draft report of the investigation was issued in November of 2010 and reviewed by the Water District. The Water District has again reacted aggressively to the contents of the study and delivered a seventeen page response to the DEC outlining the deficiencies contained in the study. In the next several months, a public meeting will be held to discuss the possible remedies for additional offsite treatment facilities. This time, all water districts in the path of the plume will attend and assist one and other to force the NYSDEC to require Grumman to aggressively treat the plume before it affects additional public supply wells. Community assistance and attendance at this meeting will be helpful and is encouraged. 


All Bethpage Water District well sites in the path of the plume have been fitted with treatment facilities that remove all contaminants in the groundwater to a non-detect level. The system employs redundant technology in the filtration process in the event any contaminant should pass the first set, it is filtered by the second set.  The water is sampled on a monthly basis, and sometimes more frequently. The Bethpage Commissioners, their employees, and their consultants comprise some of the most knowledgeable experts regarding the Grumman/Navy plume. As a result of recent Unites States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) involvement and subsequent report, the Grumman/Navy groundwater model has been discredited and eliminated as a serious planning tool for the NYDEC, Grumman and the NAVY. The Bethpage Water District has been aggressively requesting this action since 1995 when the model was first presented to the public. The Water District has always believed that the groundwater model produced projections that consistently underestimated the extent, concentration and rate of flow of the Grumman/Navy plume. The EPA report has resulted in a new look at the entire plume and groundwater remediation efforts. 

If you have any questions regarding the Grumman/Navy plume or how it has affected the public water supply, the District Commissioners encourage you to contact Anthony Sabino, Esq. Mr. Sabino has attended every meeting of every agency since 1990 and is familiar with all of the materials contained at the Bethpage Public Library. You may reach Mr. Sabino by e-mail at See link to ask questions.

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