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Source: Huntington Buzz

[EXCLUSIVE] Lockheed Agrees to Send Toxins to Drinking Wells


Posted: October 24, 2013
Originally Published: October 23, 2013

There is a groundwater contamination crisis on Long Island and a little known but precedent-setting agreement between Lockheed Martin and the Manhasset-Lakeville and Great Neck water districts stands a good chance of making it worse.

State of Our Water

Groundwater contamination threatens drinking water wells in both Nassau and Suffolk counties. Around 65 years ago, defense and aerospace companies (among others) discharged industrial solvents used in manufacturing and contaminated the soil and groundwater beneath their facilities. Groundwater, through its natural flow, carries these potentially carcinogenic volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) through our underground aquifers. Today as many as 30% of Long Island drinking water wells are contaminated and these toxins continue to spread.

Sperry Unisys Plume

Over the course of decades, defense contractor Sperry Unisys discharged vast quantities of VOC's--such as dichloroethene, trichloroethene and tetrachloroethene--into the soil and groundwater beneath its 94 acre site in the Lake Success, LI. These VOC’s combined to form “toxic plumes”--three dimensional masses of toxins--a thousand feet wide, hundreds of feet deep, and several thousand feet long.

Lockheed Martin bought Sperry Unisys in 1994, thus knowingly assuming responsibility for the toxins Sperry released into our groundwater. Though Lockheed Martin made limited efforts to comply with its legal responsibility, the situation worsened as the toxic plume spread contaminating drinking wells in the Great Neck and Manhasset-Lakeville water districts. According to the Great Neck Record, DEC Regional Director Ray Cowen said, at a public meeting in 2001, that “in fifteen years the plume, if untreated, will move further north and would contaminate well fields operated by Manhasset-Lakeville and Great Neck Water Authorities.” Unfortunately Mr. Cowen’s warning has become reality.

Lockheed Martin Agreement

The Lockheed Martin agreement, if approved by the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) would set a precedent for negotiating away proven treatment strategies which protect public drinking water wells, for the sake of short-term financial gain, without informing the public prior to approval.

Although Lockheed Martin already bears legal responsibility to clean up VOC’s originating from its property, it initiated a separate agreement with the two water districts according to a Great Neck Record article and recently confirmed by Greg Graziano, Great Neck Water District Superintendent.

Under this agreement, Lockheed Martin offers the Great Neck and Manhasset-Lakeville water districts financial incentives--as high as $10.4 million and $12.95 million, respectively--to use their drinking water wells, which are actively used by tens of thousands of people, to treat contaminated water from the plume--instead of building separate “extraction wells” used solely for treatment purposes.

The policy followed until now consists of protecting community drinking water wells from contamination by placing separate “extraction wells” as a front line defense against contaminated groundwater. These wells, which are installed in contaminated sections of the aquifer, extract contaminants from those sections and treat the contaminated water before it reaches drinking water wells. In contrast, what Great Neck Superintendent Graziano refers to as a “change of approach” involves using drinking water wells as the sole method to treat contaminated groundwater.

In fact, “the best way to protect Long Island water is to intercept and treat toxic water before it reaches public drinking water wells and requires treatment,” says Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

Although Lockheed bears responsibility for the contaminated plume, right now the two water districts and their customers pay to remove contaminants which which emanate from Lockheed property from their drinking water wells. Why is a separate agreement needed if Lockheed is already responsible?

Under this new agreement, Lockheed Martin would merely pay the water districts to treat water as they already do but without protection from the plume, but it would seem that Lockheed Martin should already be paying the water districts to remove toxins which come from their site. Lockheed Martin prefers the alternative of simply giving water districts money to treat contaminated water by using their drinking water wells, because paying water districts to use already existing drinking water wells saves Lockheed Martin millions of dollars, not to mention the time and effort involved in building new extraction wells.

The Plume Escapes

“If implemented, this plan will be the most effective and rapid solution to remove the biggest volume of chemicals from the plume,” said Manhasset-Lakeville District Commissioner Andrew DeMartin, according to the Great Neck Record article.

The drinking water wells are in the path of the plume so they can effectively contain it, Superintendent Graziano told me. But according to the map provided, the plume originates at the former Sperry-Unisys site and then travels north and west between Little Neck Parkway and New Hyde Park Road. Great Neck’s wells on Community Drive draw in the plume as they pump water for residents, but these supply wells are not along the northwest axis of the plume. Nor can a small amount of wells in two water districts possibly contain the plume so it will surely continue to spread and contaminate more drinking water wells.

The plume heads north and west at a rate of about one foot per day because of the natural flow of groundwater in that area. Thus, Lockheed Martin should put additional extraction wells south of the public drinking water wells to intercept the plume, and so reduce the impact of hazardous VOC's on our drinking water supply.

Risk to Public

While Lockheed Martin would save money with this agreement and the water districts would get some short-term revenue, the consumer bears the brunt of the risk for this venture. Chronic low-level exposure to VOC’s in our drinking water may cause conditions such as cancer, harm to the developing fetus, as well as danger to the young, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems. Mr. Graziano told me that levels of contaminants in his wells would raise to 60 parts per billion, but then would be treated to “non-detect” standards, which is commendable; but is allowing contaminated water to reach our drinking wells our only option here?

"Treated water is not the same as clean water,” says Adrienne Esposito. “The public pays again and again with its health for every glass of water because once groundwater is contaminated and needs to be treated, it’s no longer clean” because trace amounts of toxins remain.

Without extraction wells intercepting and treating toxins, concentrations of VOC's in our drinking water wells would increase, further straining the ability of state and local health departments to monitor for toxins, because these agencies barely have enough employees to monitor the wells as it stands.

Great Neck Wells and Salt Water Intrusion

The issue of salt water intruding into the wells from the coast becomes a major justification for the agreement. But Great Neck already shut down some wells closer to the bay affected by salt water intrusion, and now uses wells further inland to augment their supply, so why would salt water be a major factor since the wells are inland?

Behind the Deal

Superintendent Graziano told me that Great Neck has a “special relationship with Lockheed Martin”.....but perhaps the public should be in the driver's seat. The State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), who will make the decision whether to accept the Lockheed Martin agreement faces heavy pressure from local politicians and the two water districts to accept this agreement. Superintendent Graziano told me that he expected to hear back from DEC already, but that if he didn’t hear back soon, he would contact Senator Jack Martin, “who was instrumental in crafting the agreement.”

United Front?

“We aren’t to enter into any deal that could jeopardize future water supply for some money today,” said Superintendent Graziano according to an April 2013 article from the Island Now. “You can’t drink money,” said State Senator Jack Martins, a leading proponent of the Lockheed-Martin agreement.

Yet, according to the Island Now, Senator Martins is coordinating an effort to assemble local politicians and water districts to mount a “united front” against the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC.)

It’s hard to see how it benefits the public to unite against the DEC, the agency responsible for creating a remedy. DEC wants to better protect drinking water wells by intercepting the plume with separate extraction wells--the very remedy environmental advocate Adrienne Esposito espouses.

Is this a “take-it-or leave it proposition?” “Getting into legal entanglements or other solutions which would take more time would be destructive,” said Assemblywoman Michelle Schimmel, who also supports the agreement, according to the Island Now.

Might water districts and local politicians favor this "change of approach" because they fear there will be no other remedy coming? Certainly the DEC could face legal entanglements or delays by Lockheed Martin should Lockheed not get the remedy it wants.

While DEC's mission is to "serve, improve and protect New York's natural resources and environment," this agreement better serves and protects Lockheeds's corporate bottom line than our aquifer, since it uses drinking water wells to try to capture the plume at considerable risk to the aquifers and the public, and allows the plume to continue to spread and do more damage.

And though Lockheed Martin would pay to operate the public supply wells and pay for the treatment the water districts implement, who will pay to clean up the plume as it spreads towards other wells?

Preventing further damage by proper remediaiton, ie, constructing separate extraction wells--will save money, preserve human health, and help sustain the aquifer in the long run.

Lack of Public Debate

Mr. Graziano informed me that the public may not see this agreement, which was signed in April, because it is not approved yet by the DEC. DEC's mission includes "the empowerment of individuals to participate in environmental decisions that affect their lives, " and since tens of thousands of people in the two districts will be drinking this water, it would seem fair to let them see the agreement see to judge what the risks may be to themselves and their families before any approval. And other communities in the path of the plume may wish to express their concerns as well.


The term of the agreement would be 30 years, Superintendent Graziano told me. Lockheed would make payments to the water districts on an annual basis over a 30-year term, Mr. Graziano said. This would amount to approximately $347,000 to $432,000 per year for the Great Neck and Manhasset-Lakeville Water Districts, respectively ( based on $10.4 on million and $12.95 million dollars payments over 30 years.)

Would roughly $400,000 a year adequately compensate tens of thousands of customers and future generations for further deterioration of their drinking water supply and potential health effects, particulary with the rising costs of healthcare today?

Future Implications

Would Lockheed’s legal liabilities regarding its pollution end after this agreement expires? Mr. Graziano said that after the 30 year term, Lockheed-Martin has a “good faith agreement” that all parties will sit down at the table and discuss “where they are then." But without any future legal responsibility, it seems unlikely that Lockheed would come back to the table, particularly if contamination spreads, which it likely will without proper treatment, and the agreement expires.

“By leaving the majority of the contamination in place, future changes in groundwater conditions could push the plume into new areas of the aquifer not presently in the path of the plume. This will cause larger portions of the aquifer to be "off limits" to future public water supply use unless expensive treatment is provided. What will be the Lockheed Martin liability for that?,” says associate professor and director of the NYIT Center for Water Resources Management, Sarah Meyland.

In addition, Superintendent Graziano told me the plume is headed out to the bay. If the plume reaches Long island’s marine waters, which it may in about 15 years, this creates a new problem with unknown consequences. Some believe that if toxic plumes head out to the bay they will be diluted. But for over 65 years the plume has continued to have a very significant effect on our aquifers, so hopes for dilution may be overly optimistic. In addition, though science cannot prove a direct link between chronic exposure to VOC’s in drinking water and conditions such as cancer or autism, future studies may prove a cause and effect relationship--and it's hard to argue for polluting more of the aquifer rather than protecting it.

To best protect the public, our drinking water wells, and our aquifer, as Adrienne Esposito said, we should implement remedies that intercept and treat contaminants before they reach our drinking water wells- not after the fact.
Further, in the words of Professor Sarah Meyland, “We need agreements to improve water quality not degrade it.” Important policy changes which may potentially affect the health of tens of thousands of people, and set a new precedent for Long Island deserve thoughtful conversation and debate in an open forum where residents, their political representatives, and experts in the field may ask questions and give their opinions- and the first step would be to publish the agreement.