After the better part of a decade of being shut off to the public, a baseball field in Bethpage Community Park is finally going to be remediated after years of investigation into ongoing health concerns. While most communities see their local baseball fields utilized for youth leagues and summer camps, this one was designed to serve one additional purpose : to emit noxious fumes from chemical waste into the atmosphere.
Bethpage is my hometown, and it’s a place I’m proud to be from. It’s a modest middle-class town on Long Island with a passion for industry and neighbors that have been like second families to me. The Bethpage Black is one of the most difficult public golf courses in the United States. There’s also a number of film studios that have put movies in theatres, such as The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Most notable of all is Bethpage’s aerospace industry and history. Amongst other engineering achievements, Bethpage is home to the lunar module. While the Eagle may have landed on the moon, let it be known that its origin is right in my backyard.
Unfortunately, those engineering achievements came at a cost that more people have to deal with every single day.
A Dull Moment For The Town’s Brightest
How this issue came to be is something that no resident of Bethpage needs to look up. The story has been told time and time again. Thankfully, it’s a short one. When the Navy and Northrop Grumman were developing new technologies, there was a byproduct of chemical waste. This waste would be stored in barrels. The problem arose when the barrels accumulated. Stacking the barrels was the simple solution that solved the issue of space. Unfortunately, repetitive stacking led to the barrels on the bottom exceeding the amount of weight they could withstand. Barrels are designed to hold the substance inside of them, not to support structure above them. The seals on the barrels on the bottom began to break. Over time, chemical waste seeped into the ground beneath it.
That chemical waste eventually began to spread and eventually reached the aquifer. For what now seems like a reason I’d rather not think about, Bethpage used to have the best drinking water in the state of New York. We went toe to toe with Syracuse every year, except that Bethpage is a population-dense town on an island with little of its own fresh water. Syracuse is in the more vast and nutrient rich part of New York. A town like mine had no business having such delicious water, but my guess is that the flavor might not have been from it being particularly clean.
The spread of toxins hasn’t stopped at Bethpage. Neighboring towns are subject as well. The chemical waste continues to travel to the south. If the plume touches your water supply, there’s toxins in the water you drink, cook with, shower in, clean with, and bathe in. It’s in the vegetables grown in the backyard and the ice you put in your soda. A filter on your sink isn’t going to catch poison. It sounds like a recipe for death. It just might be.
Cathy, Christopher, and Bruce Cornett are Bethpage residents who live right on top of the plume. They have a lawsuit against Northrop Grumman, alleging that the plume is the proximate cause of all three being diagnosed with cancer within 20 months.
Almost one third of the people were reported without information on type of cancer, so that reported cancer occurrence patterns by cancer type could not be fully evaluated. The reported cancers included an apparently unusual proportion of brain tumors. Most of the brain tumors could not be confirmed as primary brain tumors, and it was likely that other cancers in this area were not reported, making the proportion of brain tumors appear high. There were reports of two cases of a particularly rare cancer, but these reports could not be confirmed. The reported cancers also included an unusual proportion of breast cancer cases in an area approximating that outlined by County Executive Mangano, but calculations showed the number of breast cancers, even if they all could be confirmed, would not be unusual.
That review is fairly inconclusive, although it has some potential major red flags. On a positive note, at least it’s not like all of Bethpage is walking around with cancer. Even if there were just a couple of lives lost every year in this town due to the toxins since 1976, Northrop Grumman and the United States Navy would have the lives of 88 innocent residents to be held accountable for. To put that into perspective, in 2018, category 5 Hurricane Michael took the lives of 59 people across 5 states.
The battle for clean water in Bethpage is one that continues on to this day. While corrupt politicians like Ed Mangano have made this process more difficult than it needs to be, there is hope for a brighter future. With $585 million dollars approved for that remediation, the next generation of Bethpage residents hopefully won’t have to worry about potentially being at a higher risk for cancer.
It’s kind of funny in a sick and twisted way. My parents bought a house in Bethpage because property taxes were significantly lower due to the amount of money that Northrop Grumman pumped into the local economy. Many of the town’s residents did the same. It’s such a shame that some of them may have paid for it with their life.