CENTRAL ISLIP (CN) - Long Island is on the brink of “environmental catastrophe,” residents claim in a federal complaint, accusing New York and U.S. authorities of letting radioactive waste spread in the groundwater.
Filing suit Thursday in U.S. District Court, the group Long Island Pure Water says suburban Bethpage owes its “plume of radioactive material” to the decades of improper waste handling carried out by the U.S. Navy and the aircraft manufacturer now known as Northrop Grumman.
James Rigano, a Melville-based attorney for the citizen group, said some of Bethpage’s 16,000 residents are already seeing health effects.
“You name it,” Rigano said in an interview, but cancer is the “primary issue.”
Cigarette smoking is the country’s leading cause of lung cancer, but exposure to radon — an odorless, tasteless, colorless gas that is released by decaying radium — in No. 2.
“Many former workers from the Navy Grumman site and Bethpage residents are deeply concerned that their health issues stem from exposure to these chemicals,” Rigano added.
The complaint notes that Long Island Pure Water has more than 70 members, most of whom live in the plume zone. They say state and federal regulators “have confirmed the existence of the plume,” but dropped the ball when it comes to remediation.
New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, which is named as a defendant to the action alongside Governor Andrew Cuomo and the U.S. Navy, deny the Long Island Pure Water’s allegations.
“These claims are pure fiction and the facts are clear - the public is not exposed to or drinking radium contaminated water,” spokeswoman Erica Ringewald said in an email.
Residents say the presence of radium in one local well caused the water district to shut it down.
But tens of thousands of people receive their drinking water from the 25 public and private wells southeast of the Navy-Grumman site in Bethpage, and the complaint says “several [of the] wells are known to be threatened by the plume.”
DEC spokeswoman Ringewald emphasized that the state is working to contain the contamination plume, while holding the Navy and Grumman accountable, but that the data so far “indicates that radium in the area “is naturally occurring.”
“Unfortunately, the plaintiffs have tried to mischaracterize this factual information and threatened to sue DEC unless they were hired to conduct a second study,” Ringewald said.
“DEC will vigorously defend itself in this case and we look forward to a quick dismissal,” she added.
Rigano, the plaintiff’s attoney, accused the state of taking 97 percent of the 600-plus-acre Grumman site off its list of regulated areas prematurely.
“The DEC has reports from 2000 and earlier that radioactive materials were used at the Navy-Grumman site and yet have never required investigation of radioactive materials,” Rigano added.
Bethpage has touted its water as the best tasting in New York after winning a state fair in 2006.
Two schools in the Bethpage School District, the elementary school and the high school, are located on the plume, but Superintendent Terrance Clark has said neither community is at risk.
“The Bethpage Union Free School District has conducted independent environmental tests for the past decade in the schools and on our campuses. The results of every test are published on our website,” Clark said in an emailed through from a school spokesperson Friday. “The environmental firm we retain are the ones who detected the radium in the groundwater approximately 60 feet below the surface. We have been assured by our consultants as well as by the NYSDEC that there is no danger posed to our students or staff. We continue to vigilantly test air quality and groundwater out of an abundance of caution.”
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