A team excavating contaminated drums. (Photo courtesy of the Town of Oyster Bay)

Graveyard Of Chemical Drums Unearthed

Demands for Grumman to excavate contaminated soils at Bethpage Community Park

Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino has renewed demands for Northrop Grumman to excavate all contaminated soils at Bethpage Community Park following the recent discovery of six 55-gallon chemical drums buried just 7 feet underground near the ballfield and skate park. These chemical drums are encased in concrete coffins, which is highly uncommon according to environmental experts. To ensure the health and safety of residents, the Town of Oyster Bay immediately notified the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and retained an environmental engineer.

From the 1930s to 1990s, the 600-acre Grumman facility in Bethpage was home to aerospace manufacturing, research and testing. In 1962, when Grumman donated the polluted 18-acres site, the deed transfer required the Town of Oyster Bay to use the donated real estate as a Park. Thus, Grumman was/is aware that their potential pollutants route of exposure is to a high-risk human population, not an industrial park or military installation. It wasn’t widely disclosed until 2002 that portions of the land had been the company’s chemical waste disposal site and are a primary source of groundwater contamination. While Grumman and the Navy, which owned 105-acres of the 600-acre site, are responsible for cleaning up the region’s larger area of groundwater pollution, Grumman is solely responsible for environmentally remediating the Community Park. A 2020 Newsday investigation detailed a history of deceptive statements, missteps and minimization that slowed the cleanup of this environmental crisis.

The contaminated drums unearthed in Bethpage Community Park. (Photo courtesy of the Town of Oyster Bay)

Remediation of the Park by Grumman has followed a March 2013 Record of Decision (ROD) with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), for which the Town has been adamant is not fully protective of the health and safety of our residents and the environment. Nearly 11 years later, the Park remains partially closed, insufficiently investigated, and still highly contaminated while Grumman has continued its lethargic progress without penalty by the State. An entire generation of Town residents have lost out on public access to the full enjoyment of the facilities at the Park, with many never knowing that beyond the stockade fence that has stood for so long is a baseball field that once brought joy and excitement to so many children and their families. Boring-after-boring has demonstrated that a tremendous concentration of pollution continues to exist in the ground. Grumman must be held accountable for this cleanup. The Town has continually sought to modify the inadequacies of the March 2013 Record of Decision. We must achieve a full remediation of the Park’s soils for both VOCs and PCBs. We believe that the site must meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cleanup standards for unrestricted property use and protection of groundwater standards. Furthermore, the remediation program that has been approved places restrictions on how the Town can maintain and improve the Park in the future, as the residual contamination that will be allowed to remain in place will require the Town to implement additional costly testing and remediation any time soil is disturbed.

Supervisor Saladino stated, “The secret burial of these drums is further proof as to why we need the highest level of cleanup to remove all contaminants from the park, and truck them off Long Island to protect the health and safety of our community. Despite our demands and Grumman knowing of pollution at this park for decades, they continue to drag their feet and use a haphazard approach to dealing with this environmental nightmare.”

As reported in Newsday and News12 in 2016, a tipster suggested that drums were buried underground in the park. That claim was deemed unfounded by the DEC, yet chemical-filled drums were discovered buried in the park just last week. Less than a year ago, the Town began soil borings to investigate the park more thoroughly due to a lack of urgency by Grumman. With this recent discovery, Grumman is now being forced to move forward with radar scans to determine where additional contaminants are in the park.

“For decades, Grumman has refused to properly clean up the park and this discovery is further evidence that we cannot trust them. That is why my administration filed the Town’s second lawsuit against Grumman in September. Grumman’s haphazard approach has led to clear environmental hazards and still no one knows the true extent of what is buried below the surface. This discovery of drums encased in concrete coffins is further proof that the park was Grumman’s graveyard for contamination. They buried their environmental sins of the past in our backyard. The Governor, State Department of Environmental Conservation, Environmental Protection Agency and our U.S. Senate and Congress members must join the Town in compelling Grumman to remove all contaminated soils from Bethpage Community Park and truck them off Long Island. Our residents deserve better and we will not settle for anything less,” added Supervisor Saladino.

Additionally, the Nassau County Fire Marshal’s HazMat Team determined that there is no safety hazard to the public at this time.

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