Read the Onondaga Nation's Vision for Onondaga Lake
ONONDAGA LAKE - THE MOST POLLUTED LAKE IN AMERICA
Onondaga Lake is roughly 4.5 miles long, 1 mile wide, and
lies in Central New York, next to the city of Syracuse. The lake has
an average depth of 36 feet, with two deep basins. The northern basin
is 62 feet deep; the southern is 65 feet deep. Ninemile Creek and Onondaga
Creek are the lake’s two largest tributaries. Additionally, the
discharge from Metro – Onondaga County’s sewage treatment
plant – provides
almost 20% of the water flowing into the lake and as much as 30% in the
Centuries ago, the Peacemaker brought the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga,
Oneida, and Mohawk Nations together on the shores of Onondaga Lake. At
the lakeshore, these warring nations accepted the message of peace, laid
down their arms, and formed the Haudenosaunee Confederacy – the
first representative democracy in the West. The lake became a sacred
place, one that must be cared for and respected.
The Onondagas were good stewards of the Lake until New York, in defiance
of federal law, took control of the lake and its surrounding areas.
ISSUES FACING ONONDAGA LAKE
Ammonia and phosphorus are the most prevalent nutrients in the lake,
and they appear in such high levels because of human waste that was dumped
into Onondaga Lake with little or no treatment. Excessive amounts of
these nutrients lead to algae growth in the lake. These algal blooms
used mass quantities of oxygen choking out fish and plants, especially
in the deeper portions of the lake. Without oxygen in these parts of
the lake, cold-water fish cannot survive. Thanks to recent upgrades at
Metro fewer nutrients are pouring into the lake and there has been an
improvement in water quality and an increase in fish populations.
The toxins are chemicals and chemical byproducts in the lake-bottom
sediments, the water, and surrounding soils. They are in the lake either
because they were intentionally dumped or because they seeped in from
the upland toxic waste sites or the wastebeds that line the western shore
of the lake. The pollutants are dangerous for humans, plants and animals
in and around the lake. Some of the more prevalent toxins include mercury,
chlorinated benzenes, BTEX compounds, PCBs, and PAHs. Until the toxins
are removed, the lake will never be healthy and all plant and animal
life in and around the lake will suffer. Scroll down to read more about
Every day, about one-half ton of clay and silt flows down Onondaga Creek
and dumps into the lake. These sediments come from the Tully Valley mudboils.
Mudboils are naturally occurring releases for groundwater pressure that
is built up by the unique geology of the Tully valley. However, decades
of mining by predecessors of Honeywell Int. have significantly increased
sediment loading into the lake.
The Solvay wastebeds ring the southwest end of Onondaga Lake. In 1884 Honeywell’s
predecessors began producing soda ash on the lakeshore. Roughly 6 million
pounds of salty wastes, made up of chloride, sodium , and calcium were
discharged daily to Onondaga Lake from the soda ash facility before it
closed in 1986. Additional dumping created the Solvay wastebeds, which
continue to leech toxins into Onondaga Lake today.
Methyl mercury, the mercury
found in aquatic systems, is among the most poisonous chemicals known.
Mercury has been measured in fish from Onondaga lake at levels that far
surpass federal and state standards. 165,000 lbs of mercury was discharged
into Onondaga Lake by Allied Chemical (Honeywell’s
predecessor). Scientists estimate that 7 million cubic yards of lake-bottom
sediments are contaminated as a result.
Phosphorus and Ammonia
Algal blooms are a serious problem for Onondaga
Algae drains the water of precious oxygen thereby inhibiting plant and
fish life. Recent upgrades at Syracuse’s main sewage facility have
helped curb algae-promoting nutrients like phosphorus and ammonia. But
these nutrients continue to freely enter the ecosystem from combined
sewer overflows (CSO) that release untreated sewage into tributaries
that flow into the lake.
Onondaga Lake as a Superfund Site