Cuomo: State effort to isolate the Grumman Plume

Cuomo: Drink New York,
By GREGORY ZELLER //

A $6 million state study will go deeper than ever into Long Island’s drinking water supply.

Speaking Thursday at Stony Brook University, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a number of state-funded environmental initiatives targeting regional drinking water. Among them: $2 million to kick-start a new Center for Clean Water Technology at SBU, and “the best, most extensive study ever done” on the Island’s potable supply, Cuomo said.

The proposed study would involve Nassau and Suffolk counties, the U.S. Geological Survey and SBU, according to Cuomo, who cited three main threats to the Island’s drinking water.

The first is the so-called Grumman Plume, a 3 square-mile chemical cloud lurking in the Long Island aquifer. Said to have resulted from mid-20th century Grumman manufacturing processes – Cuomo promised testing to determine its exact origins – the plume moves, and “it’s problematic,” according to Cuomo, “no doubt about that.”

The governor also announced initiatives targeting other aquifer threats, including new regulations for Suffolk County mulch producers. Cuomo said the state would test groundwater around mulch farms and install “monitoring wells” to keep tabs, in addition to introducing new regulations focused on above-ground quality-of-life concerns, including odor.

Also in Cuomo’s sights: other potential chemical contaminations and possible saltwater contamination. Instead of attacking these issues “piecemeal,” the governor proposed an “Island-wide, top-study shelf of the groundwater.”

“Let’s find out what’s going on,” Cuomo said. “If there is chemical contamination, where is it coming from? If there is saltwater, where is it coming from?”

In the shadow of the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Mich., and other U.S. towns, New York is dealing with its own quality issues upstate, and they’re “not isolated,” according to Cuomo, who predicted more such drinking-water threats as water infrastructures age.

That makes protection of potable supplies a top priority – Cuomo also noted Thursday the formation of a state rapid response team – and on Long Island, that starts with the alleged Grumman Plume.

The plume is not alleged – it’s there. But exactly where it comes from, what’s in it and where it will meander on its slow journey toward the Atlantic Ocean are questions that must be answered, according to Cuomo, who called it “the stain of the manufacturing era.”

“Companies can close up and move away,” the governor added, “but that doesn’t mean the residue they left in the ground just goes away.”

Through the study, an independent lab will test for a chemical called 4-Dioxane, which the lab can “fingerprint to manufacturing operations that may have been done by Grumman,” Cuomo said.

“Information is power,” he added. “Once we knew what we’re dealing with, we’ll have an intelligent plan for remediation.”

While the federal government has been “reluctant” to permit extensive water testing on Long Island, the governor believes New York doesn’t need permission to do its own investigation – and even welcomed a challenge from federal authorities.

“The State of New York has its own environmental jurisdiction,” Cuomo said. “We can do testing on our own, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

The governor, who credited the idea for the Center for Clean Water Technology to Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, noted Long Island is “especially environmentally sensitive, largely for geographic regions,” and said protection of the region’s drinking water is a paramount concern.

He pointed to his administration’s past commitments to Island water quality, including $383 million invested in a new Suffolk County sewer system and $800 million to improve wastewater treatment in Nassau, as well as “billions of dollars, primarily from the federal government, in hardening our utility systems.”

“We learned a lot of lessons … dealing with storms,” Cuomo said. “The Island is better prepared for extreme weather, which I’m sure will occur again.”

The new initiatives – including a state-budget proposal of $300 million for New York’s Environmental Protection Fund, which would be the fund’s highest-ever annual stipend, and new state funding for local water-infrastructure improvements – are meant to provide proactive solutions to future problems.

With Cuomo at the news conference: Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, State Senate Leader John Flanagan (R-Smithtown), Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-East Setauket) and a representative of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

“There is no more serious issue on Long Island than the chemistry of our water,” Englebright said.