BETHPAGE, N.Y. (WCBS 880) — Aerospace giant Grumman knew its chemicals were contaminating groundwater on Long Island, but kept it secret, according to a Newsday investigation.
A nine-month investigation by the newspaper uncovered multiple instances where the company made public statements that “directly contradicted the alarming evidence it held, as it avoided culpability and millions in costs.”
Paul LaRocco, one of the reporters who broke the news, tells WCBS 880’s Steve Scott that the cover-up was extensive, sometimes involving government officials.
Meanwhile, the company wasn’t worrying about certain chemicals that were later found to be harmful.
“There's about two dozen known contaminants that have been identified as part of the groundwater contamination plume that originated at the Grumman facility in Bethpage, but really, the primary one of concern – just because of the volume – is trichloroethylene or known as TCE, which is the metal, degreasing solvent that was used pretty heavily by Grumman from the late 1940s all the way, you know, in the 1980s,” LaRocco explains.
According to the report, Grumman knew since the 1970s that the chemicals used at their plant were contaminating the groundwater – but did not take immediate steps to fix the issue. Instead, the company made contradictory statements to the public – including one where a spokesman said he would drink the water if he lived in the area, despite an internal memo stating it was not recommended to consume the water.
“It kind of came out, you know, in little bits and pieces very early on in the late 1940s, there was some chromium found in the groundwater beneath Grumman’s facility and at a public well just to the south. Grumman addressed it and began treating their wastewaters for chromium, but it ended up that what ended up being a much greater concern was the TCE,” LaRocco said.
He says the chemical wasn’t known to cause harm until the 1970s, and even then, Grumman did not take steps to stop using the substance or treat wastewaters for it – adding to the plume that continues to spread, even in 2020.
A multimedia page on Newsday’s website shows the plume’s growth from 1987 to today, highlighting the amount of space that the contamination now covers.
“That’s been one of the real sore points in the community and for the local water providers that they say if aggressive action had been taken as early as the late 1970s, when they clearly knew about the contamination and the potential for spread, or even if the action had been taken in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, it wouldn't be what it is today,” LaRocco adds.
He says the plume is able to spread about a foot per day based on how the groundwater flows and the contaminants move with it.