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Sen. Chuck Schumer is urging the U.S. Navy to immediately develop a plan to connect homes near the former Grumman site in Calverton to public water.

Schumer is also asking the Navy to “significantly expand” its investigation into toxic chemicals emanating from the facility, a former Naval Weapons Reserve Plant, where Northrop Grumman built and tested fighter planes for the Navy.

In an Oct. 28 letter to Secretary of the Navy Kenneth Braithwaite, Schumer said the Navy must act quickly in light of New York’s tough new drinking water standards for the chemical contaminants 1,4 dioxane and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) which have been detected on the former Grumman site in Calverton. There were “significant detections of PFAS” in nearby private wells, Schumer wrote. The Navy did not test private wells for 1,4 dioxane. New York’s new drinking water standards took effect July 30, after the Navy sampled nearby private wells. The Navy’s monitoring of groundwater on the former Grumman’s site is ongoing.

“This strong step from New York state casts a new shadow on the Navy’s recent sampling of private drinking water wells and public monitoring wells near NWIRP Calverton because the results now exceed the state’s standards for both PFAS and 1,4-dioxane,” Schumer wrote.

PFAS chemicals, a group that includes PFOS and PFOA, are used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water. They have been manufactured and used since the 1940s in products such as water-repellent clothing, furniture, adhesives, paint and varnish, food packaging, heat-resistant non-stick cooking surfaces and insulation of electrical wires. PFOS is used in fire-fighting foam.

The former Navy manufacturing facility in Calverton was occupied by the Grumman Aerospace Corp. (later Northrop-Grumman) from the early 1950s through the mid-1990s. The Navy began its assessment of environmental conditions at the site in the mid-1980s. When when the federal government transferred the site to the Town of Riverhead in 1998, the Navy retained four noncontiguous parcels of land totaling about 335 acres inside the fenced 2,900-acre site due to environmental contamination.

The Navy in 1997 established a Restoration Advisory Board for community input into the site restoration process. The RAB has held public meetings once or twice a year to advise community members of the status of restoration. The RAB last met in January and has scheduled a meeting for Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. (The Nov. 12 meeting will be held virtually at https://tinyurl.com/CALRAB1120.)

“We’re very happy Sen. Schumer is putting pressure on the Navy to do the right thing,” Citizens Campaign for the Environment executive director Adrienne Esposito said in an interview today.

“The Navy has been an abject failure for public health protection. It’s really been shocking,” she said. “They did a cost-benefit analysis and it’s cheaper to delay than clean it up. They do the same thing in Bethpage,” Esposito said, referring to Long Island’s other former Northrop Grumman manufacturing site, where two dozen toxic chemicals are present in a massive plume of contaminated groundwater.

“It’s a pattern,” Esposito said. “They polluted the groundwater and they refuse to test people’s drinking water. It’s totally unacceptable. They are an agency that’s supposed to be protecting Americans, not poisoning them,” she said.

A Navy spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.

Schumer’s staff participated in a couple of roundtable discussions organized by Citizens Campaign for the Environment, where Esposito and community residents advocated for public water in the area south of the Calverton facility and for expanding the area of investigation into possible groundwater contamination by toxic chemicals emanating from the NWIRP/Calverton.

CCE gathered residents and key players, including the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, the Suffolk County Water Authority, a member of Rep. Lee Zeldin’s staff, County Legislator Al Krupski and Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar to discuss getting public water to the residents in the area.

As a result, the county health department and the water authority teamed up to collect samples from private wells. The sampling was delayed by the pandemic but was begun in September. Lab testing is underway.

“We’re waiting for the results,” Esposito said. Officials expanded the sampling area, she said, which now takes in 160 homes.

Riverhead Town, which operates its own water district, in February took the first steps toward a possible extension of the Riverhead Water District to serve the areas south of the former Grumman site with public water. The town board, authorized the preparation of a map and plan for the extension by H2M Group, the water district’s engineers.

Aguiar said today the map and plan have been completed and will be delivered to town hall this week.

The town took a proactive step, the supervisor said, so as to “allow for a much quicker hookup” for residents.

If sampling being done in the area reveals toxic chemicals in private wells the town will ask the Navy to pay for the extension, the supervisor said.

“If they refuse, the town will sue the Navy,” Aguiar said.

Manorville resident Kelly McClinchy, who has been asking the Riverhead Water District to bring public water to the area, said today residents there are very pleased that Schumer has reached out to the Navy again.

“It’s time the Navy starts listening to the residents,” McClinchy said.

“The residents didn’t cause this contamination. The efforts of Grumman in conjunction with the Navy did. The residents deserve to know they are drinking clean water,” McClinchy said. “It is time for public water to be extended to all the residents so they have that assurance.”

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.