Onondaga Nation Wants Better Cleanup of Onondaga Lake

Jan 29, 2016

The cleanup of Onondaga Lake, which was started in 2005, has not gone according to plan.
Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News

The Onondaga Nation is calling for a change in strategy on cleaning up Onondaga Lake. Nation leaders were at the lakeside today, criticizing one part of the remediation that failed. Nation attorney Alma Lowry says the public hears about progress, but not problems.

“The public is repeatedly told that the lake is being restored, that we’re almost done, that we’ve come to the end of the remediation, almost. We’re really just beginning; this is phase one of the remediation, the capping and dredging.”

Some of the capping of contaminated sediments at the bottom of the lake failed, exposing pollution in two areas. The capping soil designed to anchor pollutants shifted uncovering P-C-B’s, Mercury and other toxins. Lowry calls the containment strategy dangerous, which is scary considering it’s being used elsewhere.

“Just over the hill there is Waste spreads 1-through-8, which has just been re-opened to the public, with a lovely new amphitheater inviting people to use it. That site is also a contaminated site and people who use that site are being protected, again, by a cap.”

She says containment will have to be monitored for hundreds of years. Onondaga Chief Tadadaho Sid Hill says the public is kept in the dark about the real progress on the lake cleanup.

Onondaga Chief Tadadaho Sid Hill is unhappy with the lack of progress in cleaning up Onondaga Lake.
Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News

“We’re concerned about the propaganda that’s put out there. They come out there and they had a swimming exhibition, and they said the lake is clean. Even Governor Cuomo was talking about the clean lake, and it’s just not true.”

Nation officials say they only found out about the containment failures by poring over technical documents. They charge that Honeywell, who’s responsible for the cleanup, never disclosed the incidents. Honeywell, who was required to clean up the lake due to the 1980 U.S. Superfund law, consented on a cleanup solution in 2005.

They began the dredging operation in 2012, with the process being completed in 2014. Honeywell estimated that 2.2 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment had been removed. Eighty percent of all contaminated sediments remain on the lake bottom, which is what the cap was.

Hill wants a new strategy to more completely clean the lake, not just cap the problems.

“We were promised through treaties to be able to be here. We’ve slowly been pushed back by New York State agreements. We’ve lost touch with the lake. But we couldn’t use it anyway because you can’t eat the fish, you can’t use the medicines, and you can’t swim in it.”

Honeywell acknowledges the failures and notes they cover a small percentage of the containment cap.