On the surface, it appears to be a no-brainer.
The Bethpage Water District has announced it’s suing Northrop Grumman for water contamination allegedly caused by decades of aviation and aerospace manufacturing at the Grumman complex in Bethpage. One might think it’s a legal slam dunk – but like anything else on Long Island, the issue is deeper and more complex.
There’s no question Grumman built thousands of aircraft on the site and Northrop Grumman doesn’t question its responsibility to remediate the land, to the tune of $100 million so far. But the Bethpage Water District lawsuit seems to be silent on the issue of Navy culpability, which is not insignificant given that the Navy – which owned a large portion of the Grumman site – is also on the hook for environmental remediation.
The larger issue is whether the pollutants heading for the water wells can all be laid at the feet of 50-year-old Grumman manufacturing processes that were ignorant of the environment. A comprehensive published study that looked at Long Island’s water quality cited a broad range of containments threatening our drinking water, from farm-field runoffs to chemicals from local dry cleaners and a small industrial-plating shop that closed 25 years ago.
In short, there’s no shortage of contributors to our water problems, and going after the deepest pockets with the most recognizable brand name isn’t going to stand up to science or the law.
Caution is particularly important in this area, because environmental contamination rocks our world. Everyone knows someone with cancer and it’s easy to assume that the poisons underfoot are the reasons for a dreaded diagnosis. The Water District will now have to reveal in court its methodology for determining that Northrop Grumman is the sole entity responsible for the district’s pollution.
What we may find that the perpetrators have many identities and many locations.
Once we dispense with the witch hunt, let’s agree on an approach that shuts down the pollution sources that threaten our lives, our economy and our future.
Polimeni is a member of the Association for a Better Long Island and chairman of its Aerospace Industry Advocacy Committee