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Public Statements

Schumer Calls for Plan to Be Released Before March 31st; Timeline Must Be Implemented to Prevent Further Delays

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U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today called for two steps that would move forward the remediation efforts at the former Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant in Bethpage, which has created a toxic plume that impacts the Massapequa community. First, Schumer called on the U.S. Department of Navy to include a more aggressive and comprehensive approach to treating the plume in their upcoming Record of Decision (ROD) regarding the Bethpage plume as opposed to the proposed and costly post-contamination well-head treatment plans. Second, Schumer called on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to release the ROD, on the newest remediation plan for the plume, known as "OU-3," before March 31, 2013. In addition, DEC must establish a timeline that requires certain milestones be met at specific dates. For years, Schumer has been a leading advocate for aggressive federal cleanup of the Bethpage toxic plume, which affects the Bethpage, Massapequa, South Farmingdale and Wantagh communities. Schumer today is urging the Navy and the DEC to immediately move forward in an effective way that would proactively address the Bethpage plume.

"It's clear that a more aggressive approach is needed to clean up this toxic plume. The Navy's plans to rely on wellhead treatment would allow more wells to be contaminated rather than cleaning up the mess before it hits our drinking water," said Schumer. "The Navy needs to get on board and remove these toxins immediately so that Bethpage, Massapequa, South Farmingdale and Wantagh residents are not put in harm's way."

"The Massapequa Water District has been debating against the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's approach to this highly toxic, multi-Superfund site for many years. Dealing with numerous state and federal agencies all of whom have a hand in this matter, is not an easy task. Both the federal and state Clean Water Act and drinking water standards have been legislated to protect us against these highly toxic chemicals from entering our drinking water supply. The EPA, New York State DEC, New York State DOH, Nassau County DOH, Navy, and Grumman have all had at least 25 years to mitigate this site. To date they have failed to do so and in fact the responsible parties have pointed fingers at each other. Since September 2010 when Senator Schumer chaired a meeting in our office these various groups have finally set about to do the job that they were originally charged to do. Being the last water district not affected by this plume we stand behind Senator Schumer's position and urge all other water districts and their constituents to join us. The clock is ticking against the continued migration of this toxic plume," said MWD Commissioner Thomas Hand.

The United States Navy operated a Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant in Bethpage, New York for several decades beginning in the late 1930's, leaving behind one of the largest areas of contamination in New York State. The old Navy facility was located on 635 acres in Bethpage where former defense manufacturing activities resulted in the contamination of soil and groundwater with industrial solvents including trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, dichloroethylene and vinyl chloride. In 1976, contamination concerns were first identified when on-site wells were detected to contain volatile organic compounds. Since that time, the plume has spread and is threatening over 20 additional public drinking wells that serve over 250,000 Nassau County residents in the Massapequa, Bethpage, South Farmingdale and Wantagh communities. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) originally projected that certain wells in the Massapequa Water District would not be impacted for several years, however local districts water districts have said that groundwater sampling in the vicinity of these supply wells has revealed that the plume could hit within four years.

The EPA's recent proposal to address the Bethpage plume calls for two or more additional remediation recovery wells and full delineation consisting of two dozen monitoring wells along the western portion of the plume and moving the wells on the east-side to the south. A Navy-funded report, secured by Schumer, detailed the need for more remediation and monitoring. The Navy's current policy revolves around wellhead treatment, a process of building expensive pollution treatment systems after wells have been contaminated.

In his letter to the agencies, Schumer today called on the Navy to follow the EPA's proposal in the ROD and agree to a comprehensive clean-up and monitoring plan to address the Bethpage plume. Schumer noted that the policy of wellhead treatment is inefficient and costly. Schumer pointed to the carcinogens that contaminate vulnerable underground drinking water supplies when wellhead treatment is utilized. Schumer made the case that the Navy should commit to aggressive remediation that would not put the environment or public at risk and also explained that wellhead treatment policies are opposed by the local water districts.

Schumer also raised concerns with the slowness of the DEC's response to contain and remediate the toxic plume. The plume has forced Nassau County residents living within these affected water districts to consider financing plans for their own, locally-led clean-up, which could result in significant rate hikes for rate payers.

Schumer today called on the DEC to make sure the ROD for OU-3 is released no later than March 31, 2013. Schumer noted that Superstorm Sandy delayed the original release of the ROD for the OU-3 and it is crucial that the decision be released before April. Schumer explained that a timeline containing milestone dates should be developed to prevent additional delays.

Schumer's letter can be found below:

Dear Commissioner Martens, Secretary Mabus and Administrator Jackson:

I write to urge that the U.S. Department of Navy be required to implement more aggressive and comprehensive remediation with respect to underground toxic plume of contamination emanating from the former Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant in Bethpage, New York. Rather than post-contamination well-head treatment, which is costly and allows pollution to spread, I urge that the Navy be required to agree to a comprehensive clean-up and monitoring plan similar to that proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Specifically, EPA's proposal calls for 2 or more additional remediation/extraction recovery wells and full delineation consisting of 2 dozen monitoring wells along the western portion of the plume, and moving the wells on the east-side to the south. In addition, I urge the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) not to delay any further and release the Record of Decision (ROD) for OU-3 no later than March 31, 2013. In addition, I urge the DEC to establish a timeline that requires certain milestones be met at specific dates.

As you know, I recently asked the EPA to take a lead role in enforcing the clean-up of the toxic Bethpage chemical plume on Long Island, NY. While they are not the lead agency, the EPA has stipulated that a more comprehensive effort to remediate, delineate and monitor this plume is needed to protect the massive sole-source aquifer water supply that serves hundreds of thousands of people in Nassau County, as opposed to reactive and costly "wellhead treatment" that allows drinking water to be contaminated before acting.

The policy of wellhead treatment is inefficient and costly and allows carcinogens to contaminate vulnerable and precious underground drinking water supplies. To better preserve public health it is far preferable to require the Navy to follow a more vigorous remediation plan. While I understand that it may be too late to prevent some wells from being contaminated in the short-term, a long-term commitment to a policy of wellhead treatment, as opposed to aggressive remediation, is shortsighted and will unnecessarily put at risk the environment and public health.

There is a long and tortured history associated with this site. The United States Navy operated a Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant in Bethpage, New York for several decades beginning in the late 1930's, leaving behind one of the largest areas of contamination in New York State. The old Navy facility was located on 635 acres in Bethpage where former defense manufacturing activities resulted in the contamination of soil and groundwater with industrial solvents including trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, dichloroethylene and vinyl chloride. In 1976, contamination concerns were first identified when on-site wells were detected to contain volatile organic compounds. Since that time, the plume has spread and contaminated many public supply wells and is threatening over 20 additional public drinking wells that serve over 250,000 Nassau County residents in the Massapequa, Bethpage, South Farmingdale Water Districts, and by New York American Water.

Past groundwater modeling results accepted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) forecasted that outpost early detection wells installed upgradient of threatened South Farmingdale wells were projected to remain clean for approximately 10 years, but they were impacted in only a few years. Supply wells operated by New York American Water have been also recently impacted and now require permanent wellhead treatment. Prompt action needs to be undertaken to prevent contamination from impacting additional public supply wells.

The Navy-funded report, that was created at my urging, detailed the need for more remediation and monitoring. An EPA-led stakeholder group has concluded the same. Unfortunately, despite some positive s elements in the draft PRAP, the plan still places too much emphasis on post-contamination well-head treatment. The current Navy policy at the Bethpage site is wellhead treatment, a process of building expensive pollution treatment systems after wells have been contaminated. This is a policy that the local water districts oppose. I believe that these local water districts should not be forced to wait for the pollution to enter into new wells, only to be delayed reimbursement from the Navy after they locally finance expensive treatment systems.

Moreover, the Navy has also been too slow to enter into legal understandings with the State to rectify liabilities. Thus far, no cost agreement between the Navy and Grumman exists and only a "handshake agreement" polices this site. The bottom line is more must be done to make the Navy responsible for the contamination of water wells outside of the old Navy-Grumman site boundaries. While Northrop-Grumman has spent over $100 million on site clean-up and containment over the years, the Navy has largely been a slow and weak investor in this massive plume problem and has not compensated local water districts for costs they incurred in addressing the contamination including operational costs.

As I have pointed out in previous letters to both the Navy and EPA, the slowness of the response on the part of the Navy to contain and remediate the toxic plume is forcing Nassau County water districts to consider financing plans for their own, locally-led, clean-up, which could result in significant rate hikes for rate payers. As it stands today, two districts -- South Farmingdale and Bethpage -- have claims in against the Navy for millions of dollars that have gone unpaid, putting local ratepayers on the hook to clean up the Navy's contamination. It is my understanding that Hurricane Sandy delayed the release of the ROD for OU-3 and March 31, 2013 was the new agreed upon release date. It is crucial that the DEC move forward and release the ROD for OU-3 by the March 31, 2013 date and establish a timeline with milestones on specific dates.

The bottom line is that more needs to be done to protect both Nassau's precious drinking water and Nassau's ratepayers. I concur with the EPA analysis that the Navy be required to follow a more comprehensive plan to remediate contaminated soil as well as to construct an enhanced program of monitoring stations. A schedule must be developed and adhered to prevent additional delays in protecting Long Island Sole Source Aquifer. As you move forward refining this plan, I hope that these proposals are formally integrated into the final approach that guides the clean-up plan for this toxic plume.

Thank you for your attention to this request. I look forward to working with you to quickly and proactively address the Bethpage plume.

Sincerely,

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer


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