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Local Communities Deal With Plume Contamination

Massapequa Water District takes the lead in petitioning Albany

The possible acquisition of Aqua NY by American Water Works has raised concerns about the future of the water supply for hundreds of thousands of local residents.

Such concerns have to do with costs; as significant, is the possible spread of groundwater contamination plume from the Northrop Grumman/Navy site in Bethpage to public supply wells.

According to a spokesman for American Water, the New York State Public Service Commission, as The Massapequan Observer went to press, was set to vote on the acquisition proposal.

The Massapequa Water District has long been concerned about such contamination. Since February, they have circulated a petition among local residents asking that Governor Andrew Cuomo intercede with the actions of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and cause the immediate halt of the spread of any Navy/Grumman groundwater contamination plume to public water supply wells. According to water district officials, more than 5,000 signatures have been obtained so far and they are aiming for even more before they present the petition to state officials in Albany sometime in April or May.

Along the South Shore, the North and Central Merrick Civic Association has been at the forefront of the possible sale of Aqua NY.

According to Claudia Borecky, president of the North and Central Merrick Civic Association, a well in Seaford/Levittown was shut down in last summer due to contaminants from Grumman. Aqua representatives, Ms. Borecky said, claimed that no contaminants made it into the drinking water used by residents in the North and Central Merrick district.

However, the well shutdown and the fact that residents didn’t know about it until January 2012 highlights concerns about transparency and the possible spread of contaminants.

Ms. Borecky said that her civic association had hoped for Southeastern Nassau Water Authority to acquire Aqua NY. Indeed, earlier this year, both the Town of Hempstead and the Town of Oyster Bay combined to pay $75,000 for a future feasibility study of such an acquisition.

Ms. Borecky said concerns are mostly about pricing. Private companies, she added, don’t have to reveal all of their information. Ms. Borecky also said that private companies are not required to remove contamination or stop the plumes, even though they are required to put in a filter system.

With a public takeover, Ms. Borecky added, residents might have far more influence on how the water supply is being administered and treated.

For instance, she praised actions by Massapequa Water District as “beautiful” and “wonderful,” an example of “government in action as it should be,” namely a public entity acting to solve a problem, in this case, stopping the plume from spreading into their own drinking water.

The spokesman for American Water also said that the company, for now, cannot comment on details concerning contamination.

However, Mike Snyder, president of Aqua NY, also praised the Massapequa Water District for being in the forefront in confronting the problem and “[doing] whatever they have to do to stop contamination in its tracks.”

Snyder said that Aqua has been part of a task force that works with other water suppliers on how to deal more effectively with contamination. At the top of the agenda is working with the United States Navy to construct a treatment plant that eliminates contamination before it starts to spread. According to a list supplied by Aqua, the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOA) susceptibility levels at wells in Merrick, North Bellmore, Wantagh, Levittown, Seaford, and Massapequa are ranked “very high.” One well in Massapequa and two wells in Seaford are ranked as “medium high.”

Efforts by Anton Community Newspapers to contact the NYSDEC proved unsuccessful.

The Petition

The Massapequa Water District petition, in part, reads:

“The massive groundwater contamination plume (estimated at 3.5 miles long and 1.6 miles wide) flowing from the Northrop Grumman/Navy site in Bethpage…is severely impacting the USEPA designated ‘Sole Source Aquifer’ that supplies drinking water to over 260,000 residents south of the contaminated site. The Massapequa Water District draws its public water supply from this Sole Source Aquifer. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has allowed this highly toxic plume, a known health risk, to infiltrate and contaminate several public water supply wells north of the Massapequa Water District. Without containment it is only a matter of time before this highly toxic plume contaminates our public water supply wells. The DEC must immediately cause the Principal Responsible Parties for this contamination, the Navy and Grumman, to contain this plume and stop it from entering any other public water supply wells. Concurrently with full containment of the plume the DEC must immediately require that the principal responsible parties provide full treatment of the contaminated water to meet the current EPA and New York State Department of Health requirements.”

The petition notes that New York State law requires clean up operations of such plumes and for the site to “be restored to predisposal conditions, to the extent feasible.” The petition also expresses fears that, if not contained, the plume will also contaminate the Great South Bay.

“We, the consumers of the Massapequa Water District, some 46,000 in total, are concerned residents and demand that you, as governor of the state of New York, take immediate and decisive action to ensure that this plume is stopped from its migration and does not enter any more public water supply wells,” the petition concluded.