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Carcinogenic chemicals from New York defense plant spread through local groundwater


(NaturalNews) The toxic industrial solvent trichloroethylene, or TCE, which emanated from a Bethpage, New York plant that used to manufacture aerospace technologies, is spreading and fast-encroaching on public water wells that may affect some 250,000 residents living in nearby Nassau County.

Northrop-Grumman, (formerly Grumman Corp.) is no longer involved in manufacturing, although it still continues to maintain facilities on its 600-acre property. While the cleanup effort is decades in the making, the 4.5 mile by 3.5 mile plume of underground contamination is causing new concerns due to the fact that now, high levels of the solvent have been found to exist more than 60 stories below the ground, flowing southward toward Long Island communities.

Grumman produced military aircraft, space vehicles at Bethpage prior to environmental protection laws

Experts at the Bethpage water facility, where they test water samples at least once monthly, offer details of the contamination:

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.

"Increased risk of getting cancer" a potential problem of TCE in drinking water

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the main reason trichloroethylene gets into drinking water is discharge from metal degreasing sites and other factories. They also say that water from electrical components, metal finishing and paint formulation also play a role. Unfortunately, they also note that "Some people who drink water containing trichloroethylene well in excess of the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for many years could experience problems with their liver and may have an increased risk of getting cancer."

Experts are attempting to learn whether the fast-spreading levels of the industrial solvent are from the pre-existing plume or if it is the result of some new contamination.

"It's nerve-wracking," says Richard Armbruster, who has lived in Bethpage his entire life and insists that his family only consume bottled water. "A lot of people are nervous, but I think it's about property values. Our assets are in the house you own. You try to take care of it. It's a nice neighborhood but you don't know what's going on underneath you."

Officials at the Massapequa Water District, which is south of Bethpage, say their readings demonstrate that the contamination is undeniably threatening clean community wells. "We're sitting here watching this plume move toward us," said Stan Carey, the water district superintendent. "TCE is the primary compound and over time the readings seem to be increasing."

It would appear that the danger is inevitable, should efforts to address the problem stall.

Time is of the essence: steps to stop toxins from getting into the public water supply necessary

At the heart of the matter are questions about how to most effectively, and quickly, solve the problem.

Many have taken issue with efforts in which the Department of Environmental Conservation has allowed Northrop-Grumman and the Navy to use wellhead treatment, a process in which tainted water is decontaminated in water treatment plants before it being sent to customers.

Others advocate hydraulic drilling, where wells would be drilled at the edges of the plume to help decontaminate the water, but would also serve to help stop the flow from traveling.

A bill to consider the more favored drilling effort, which could cost upwards of a $500 million, has been signed. Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, says that should the legislation pass, it would "guarantee active interception of these toxic plumes before they get to a number of public water supply wells."

Sources for this article include:

(1) http://www.oneidadispatch.comhttp://www.oneidadispatch.com
(2) http://bethpagewater.comhttp://bethpagewater.com
(3) http://water.epa.gov/drink/contaminants/basicinformation/trichloroethylene.cfm

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