Rep. Lee Zeldin, Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, environmental Advocate Adrienne Esposito and Suffolk County Water Authority general counsel Tim Hopkins at a press conference in January calledy to demand the Navy fund public water to homes near the former Grumman site. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Local residents, environmental advocates and officials are “united” in their demand for the U.S. Navy to pay the cost of bringing public water to homes near the the former Grumman Aerospace manufacturing plant in Calverton

The Navy, however, is unimpressed.

Rep. Lee Zeldin and other officials made the demand for the Navy to act at a news conference this morning outside the home of Kelly and Pete McClinchy, located in a remote area of Manorville south of the former Grumman site, where some private wells are contaminated by toxins that environmental advocates believe originated on the Grumman site.

Afterward, a Navy spokesperson doubled down on the department’s position that it is not bound by New York State’s recently adopted drinking water standards for a class of “emerging contaminants” known as PFAS.

The spokesperson today also repeated the Navy’s assertion that the homes in the area of Manorville where the McClinchys live is not “downgradient” of the former Grumman site. The Navy maintains that the groundwater flows to the southeast and the homes where PFAS levels were in some cases 10 times the state drinking water limit are to the south or southwest of the site. The private wells found to be contaminated by PFAS “are too far to the southwest, therefore well outside the path of the south-east groundwater flow from NWIRP Calverton releases,” the spokesperson said.

PFAS — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — are a group of man-made chemicals that have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries since the 1940s. The chemicals are very persistent in the environment and in the human body – meaning they don’t break down and they can accumulate over time, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects. There are many potential sources of the same chemicals in groundwater.

The Calverton Naval Industrial Weapons Reserve Plant, as it is formally known, was owned by the the Navy for decades and leased to Northrop Grumman (formerly Grumman Aerospace) until 1996. Grumman built and tested military aircraft there for decades. It also tested fire suppression methods and trained personnel in jet crash firefighting techniques at the site, using firefighting foam known to contain PFAS.

A map and data released by the Navy in November show detections of PFAS chemicals at the Navy’s fence line treatment system on the southern border of the former Grumman site, along Grumman Boulevard.

But the Navy and Grumman knew, as far back as the mid-1980s, that the company’s operations on the site had contaminated groundwater, according to court documents in an insurance case between Northrop Grumman and its liability insurance companies. A 2013 federal court decision, first reported by Newsday last month, revealed that Grumman knew that groundwater contamination resulting from its operations could migrate off-site and threatened drinking water as well as the Peconic River estuary.

“It was three decades ago that the Navy first did their assessment if the Calverton site,” said resident Kelly McClinchy today. “For 30 years they have known there has been contamination on that site,” she said. Yet, she said, the Navy refused to test residents’ private wells.

The sampling conducted last year by the Suffolk County Water Authority and the Suffolk County Department of Health Services “confirmed” residents “worst fears,” McClinchy said. “Poisons dumped on the land have made it to our wells,” she said.

Manorville resident Kelly McClinchy, who has organized community members to demand public water, speaking at a news conference outside her home today. Photo: Denise Civiletti

“The results weren’t shocking to anyone,” Zeldin said. “No longer area able to deny these facts and the reality of this dire situation, the Navy must immediately remediate this situation and also must undertake the expense to make sure these residents have access to clean and safe drinking water.”

He said the Navy must compensate any resident who wants bottled water.

“We’re not ready to back down until they remediate this,” Zeldin said.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, praised local residents for their courage in standing up to the Navy. “It’s not easy to go against the Navy,” she said.

But residents in the area “get up every morning and make a pot of coffee or a cup of tea and take a shower and they worry: Is it safe? Is my water contaminated?” Esposito said. “And that’s wrong.”

The Navy must “clean up their own mess,” she said.

“The Navy is a government agency whose mission is to protect us.
And we’re calling on the Navy to do that here, in this community, and it’s been falling on deaf ears.”

Zeldin said the Navy has money in its budget to remediate the groundwater contamination affecting private wells in Manorville/Calverton, which affects as many as 150 homes in both Riverhead and Brookhaven towns. The estimated cost to bring public water to all the homes is insignificant to a federal agency with a $161 billion dollar budget — the Navy’s funding level for fiscal year 2021.

The congressman said he believes the Navy is treating “small” issues like the one in Calverton the same as much larger remediation needs scattered across the country,

“They have the funds to do this,” Zeldin said. “They don’t have the funds to do everything nationally.”

Esposito agreed. “The Navy can fix this tomorrow,” she said, then reconsidered. “They can fix it this afternoon.”

The Riverhead Water District and the Suffolk County Water Authority are at odds over which entity has the right to serve the affected homes in Riverhead Town — 66 of the homes are in Brookhaven Town, which is served by SCWA.

The water authority maintains that any area not within an existing water district is in the SCWA service area as a matter of law. Riverhead maintains it has the right to serve any area within the geographic boundaries of the Town of Riverhead.

Today, Supervisor Yvette Aguiar and SCWA general counsel Tim Hopkins agreed: the residents of the are need public water as soon as possible.

“The Suffolk County Water Authority has already drawn up plans to provide safe drinking water to everyone in the area,” Hopkins said. SCWA sent the plans to the Navy, he said. “We have plenty of supply. We are ready, willing and able to serve the area in question.”

Aguiar said the Riverhead Water District has capacity to serve the area.

“Every individual in the U.S. deserves to have clean water,
Aguiar said. “We are here together as one.”

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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.