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Officials Demand U.S. Navy, Military Contractor Take Responsibility For Toxic Plume On LI

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – There were growing calls Thursday for the U.S. Navy and a military contractor to take responsibility for a toxic underground plume on Long Island.

This comes after radioactive elements were found in the groundwater.

As CBS2's Alice Gainer reported, work crews have drilled a nearly 700-foot deep groundwater monitoring well in Wantagh in Nassau County. They're checking for toxic contaminants that officials say are now the unwelcome legacy of the former Grumman aerospace plant in neighboring Bethpage.

"We need to speak with one voice if we are to hold a polluter responsible," New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said.

Seggos stood with elected officials and the heads of several water districts in the path of a toxic plume, which they say can be traced to Grumman's military work for the Navy post-World War II.

"The responsible parties – Grumman and Navy – have created delays for too long, allowing this plume to continue to migrate," Massapequa water district Superintendent Stan Carey said.

Two months ago, the radioactive element radium was found in groundwater beneath Bethpage High School. The school is right across the street from Grumman's former property, which has since been turned into a park.

The school gets its drinking water from elsewhere, but residents are still outraged.

"It all stems from Grumman and the Navy dumping all their chemicals right back here in a community park, where there's no softball field," said Bethpage resident Frank Bonelli.

The park's softball field was closed and is now overgrown with weeds. Only recently did the company's corporate parent, Northrop Grumman, acknowledge it had handled radium onsite.

The state commissioner says there will be a full-scale investigation.

"We're going to have to interview people that used to work at the facility. My job isn't to trust, it's to verify," Seggos said.

Northrop Grumman said it has already spent millions of dollars installing test wells -- even though there is no definitive proof the radium came from its former site. Meanwhile, officials insist the water has been filtered and is safe to drink.

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