Lawsuit: Toxic compound found in attics of a dozen homes in Nassau County

Kristin Thorne Image
Tuesday, August 22, 2023
Lawsuit: Toxic compound found in attics of a dozen homes in Nassau
Dust samples from the attics of 12 homes in Bethpage, Levittown, and Plainview tested positive for an airborne, cancer-causing chemical, experts said. Kristin Thorne has the latest

NASSAU COUNTY (WABC) -- Dust samples from the attics of 12 homes in Bethpage, Levittown, and Plainview tested positive for an airborne, cancer-causing chemical, according to environmental experts retained by a law firm that is attempting to file a class action lawsuit against Northrop Grumman for polluting the air around its Bethpage manufacturing plant decades ago.

The samples were taken in March and May and showed evidence of hexavalent chromium in the dust in the residents' attics.

Hexavalent chromium is produced during many industrial processes and can cause a variety of cancers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration calls the chemical "toxic" and has extensive requirements on how employers are supposed to protect workers from it.

Stephanie Ciambra Ball's childhood home in Bethpage tested positive.

"You always saw smoke," Ciambra Ball recalled growing up near the factory. "We didn't think about it. You always heard the turbines going."

Ciambra Ball is a breast cancer survivor and wonders if her cancer came from the air she breathed in.

She said when she was told of the positive hexavalent chromium result she was in disbelief.

"To know that there was a possibility that the house was somehow contaminated," she told Eyewitness News investigative reporter Kristin Thorne.

The attic of Lois Schiavetta, of Bethpage, also a breast cancer survivor, also tested positive for hexavalent chromium. "I kind of hoped they would find something that would explain what was going on," she said.

Environmental experts said the air in the area is not toxic now, but may have been prior to 1995. The factory ceased operations in 1994.

Concerns about groundwater and drinking water contamination around the Bethpage factory date back to the inception of the factory in the 1940s.

In 2017, then New York Governor Andrew Cuomo released a study by the state which found that the "toxic plume" around the factory was larger and more contaminated than previously thought. The study said the contaminated plume had already spread to the Southern State Parkway and if it wasn't contained would eventually make its way to the Atlantic Ocean.

Cuomo announced a $150 million plan to install 14 treatment wells on the perimeter of the plume and four wells inside it.

In 2022, Grumman agreed to pay the U.S. government $35 million to remediate the soil and groundwater around the site.

The law firm Napoli Shkolnik is representing the group of residents in their attempt at a class action lawsuit against Grumman.

"The air contaminants historically emitted by the Facilities that impacted the Proposed Class Boundary are a cause for significant health and environmental concerns," the firm's environmental expert argued in court filings.

A judge could rule at any time whether to allow the lawsuit to proceed as a class action.

Grumman responded in court filings that the attic dust samples are unreliable and that the plaintiffs' environmental expert is not able to support his theory that because the soil at Bethpage Community Park is contaminated that the air - years ago - must have been as well.

"Tellingly, he cites no study or peer review to support this apples-to-oranges comparison," the company responded in a letter to the judge.

Grumman told Eyewitness News in a statement, "The EPA and New York DEC have evaluated potential risks to the Bethpage community from the legacy United States Navy/Grumman site and found none from historical air emissions. Northrop Grumman continues to work closely with federal and state agencies, including the EPA, New York DEC, and the United States Navy to coordinate all aspects of the work with the Town of Oyster Bay, to remediate groundwater and the Bethpage Community Park and to protect the health of the community."

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