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Schumer pushing for L.I. radium bill

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U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer is advocating for a plan that would ultimately guarantee the accuracy of test results for radium levels in Long Island groundwater especially near the Navy/ Grumman plume in Bethpage, according to a press release.

Schumer’s plan would include a new amendment in “must-pass legislation” to get an independent, second look at the samples of radium levels at the former Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant in Bethpage that is currently being done by Tetra Tech, who has what he described as a “checkered past.” Schmer said to this is being pushed due to Tetra Tech allegedly falsifying soil tests at the U.S. Navy base Hunter’s Point in San Francisco back in 2017.

Tetra Tech could not be reached for comment.

“I have asked the Navy to make sure they check for radium in the water supply, being safe is better than being sorry,” said Schumer at a press conference held on Monday at the Bethpage Water District headquarters. “When it comes to radium levels on Long Island, a guaranteed second look is a sigh of relief.”

Supervisor Joe Saladino, Senator Jim Gaughran, Assemblyman Mike Montesano, Assemblyman Chuck Lavine and officials from the Bethpage Water District were also in attendance.

Tetra Tech Inc. is a Pasadena, Calif., based Navy contractor consulting and engineering services firm that provides services in the areas of water, environment, infrastructure, resource management, energy, and international development. The company is being sued by the U.S. Justice Department.

An amendment in the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would require an independent third-party to review all radium testing completed by Navy contractors. This statutory mandate does not already exist, and the NDAA has not been signed yet.

“Radium is so serious, and this testing is so critical that holding the Navy to a guarantee on the verification of results requires an ironclad law. And the only way to ensure this is to pass the law I am including in the NDAA,” Schumer said. “This is not a partisan issue. This is a public health issue, plain and simple.”

“We don’t want anyone to have any doubts about the safety of the water supply, and if we make sure there’s a second check, we’ll all be much happier,” said Schumer.

Radium was used widely during World War II, which was considered the heyday of Grumman and Navy sites in Bethpage. It was used as luminescence which allowed nuclear panels, aircraft switches, and instrument dials to be seen at night. Although it does occur naturally at low levels in rocks, soil, water, plants and animals, it is no longer used in such applications, due to increased understanding of the dangers of radium. It is also a known human carcinogen.

The Navy, through Tetra Tech, has already completed four radium samplings at NWIRP Bethpage, according to Schumer’s office. The first was completed in April and May of 2018, the second was completed in September 2018, the third in December 2018 and the fourth was completed as recently as March 2019. The company is scheduled to conduct a fifth sampling this month.

The EPA has determined the safe amount of radium in drinking water to be 5 “picocuries” per liter (pCi/l). New York American Water, which covers Wantagh and Seaford in its Merrick district, does test for Radium in the water. According to the 2018 annual water report for Merrick, the radium levels in the water do not reach the maximum amount allowed, and the radium is said to come from “erosion of natural deposits.”

According to the 2018 Annual Report for Groundwater Impacts at NWIRP Bethpage, the concentration of radium and other radioactive materials identified in the groundwater surrounding NWIRP Bethpage is consistent with naturally occurring levels normally found in the regional aquifer.

“We can’t let Navy and Grumman have another five, six, seven years, which means 15 to 20 down the line. We have to take care of this now,” Bethpage Water District Trustee John F. Coumatos said.

“We have the money to do it, but like you said, it’s all about making sure the cleanup is done right. Protecting the health, safety, and the welfare of our residents must be the highest priority and that’s exactly what we’re ensuring,” said Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino. “Thanks to the diligence of our local water districts our residents have been protected to the highest levels at the tap.”