Navy making big moves to clean Grumman plume

Peconic River Sportsmen’s Club member Paul Sebastianelli of Medford sits with his grandson, Jarod Alfasi, 10, of Virginia, watching fish jump out of the water on Lake Donohue in Calverton. Chemicals have been found in drinking water wells at the club, which is south of the former Grumman plant.

In a move that shines “a light at the end of the tunnel” for residents long worried about extensive groundwater pollution flowing from the former Grumman naval weapons plant in Calverton, the U.S. Navy last week unveiled a plan to start testing treatment systems there this summer.

Based on the results of those tests, the Navy will present a comprehensive plan, called a Corrective Measures Study, in February that will include long-term cleanup options. After a 30-day public comment period, the study will be amended, if necessary. Once it is approved by the state, the actual cleanup could begin.

“The Navy was for the first time was talking about active remediation, and pinpointing … specific locations where they could do remediation,” said Bill Gunther, a Brookhaven National Lab research engineer and community co-chairman on the Navy’s Restoration Advisory Board (RAB), which met last Thursday in Calverton to discuss the Navy’s progress.

Once installed, treatment systems would target high concentrations of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that are flowing from the former Navy property toward the Peconic River.

VOC concentrations as high as 1,090 micrograms per liter have been found in the area. State drinking water standards are five micrograms per liter.

The News-Review first reported the existence of a wide-ranging plume in Calverton groundwater last March. The report caught the attention of Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other federal lawmakers, who have since been pressuring the Navy to move quickly to clean up the mess. The Navy previously contended that the chemicals were disappearing naturally as they flowed south toward the river, a theory that community members on the RAB, county health department officials and Mr. Schumer were all unhappy with.

“I commend the Navy for finally heeding our call on this matter and committing to swift action to protect Long Islanders from dangerous pollution,” Mr. Schumer said this week. “For too long, the Navy sat back and watched as dangerous chemicals migrated towards critical drinking water wells and the Peconic River.”

“It’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” Mr. Gunther said of the Navy’s apparent about-face, “but [lawmakers] need to keep pushing and continue to show the level of importance that we think this is worth.”

Used for decades to clear grease from jet engines when Grumman operated an assembly plant and flight test facility on the naval site, the chemicals could have harmful effects on humans and wildlife. And they have already been found in the river. Grumman ceased operations in 1994 after about 40 years there.

The Navy has identified three sites in and near the former Grumman facility where they will run pump tests, starting in June. The tests involve a “controlled extraction of groundwater, coupled with monitoring of water levels … to determine the aquifer’s characteristics,” explained Navy spokesman Tom Kreidel.

The tests are needed to evaluate possible treatment systems, the most common of which is a pump-and-treat mechanism. “The pump test will mimic a groundwater pump-and-treat system, but on a smaller scale,” Mr. Kreidel said.

But the Navy will also run preliminary tests on another cleanup method called a biodegredation system. This approach involves injecting the groundwater with corn-based organic materials that help to degrade the chemicals, Navy officials explained at the RAB meeting last Thursday.

During testing, the organic materials will be injected where the highest concentrations of VOCs have been found, and groundwater flow will then be monitored to see if a permanent biodegredation approach would be effective, Mr. Kreidel said.

Both methods could ultimately be used in the cleanup effort at the site.

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