by Lindsay Speer
Onondaga Lake – On June 22 over 17,500 people attended the Dave Matthews Band concert at the Lakeview Amphitheater. Many Onondagas either attended or worked as security staff. Dhiki Drury from Joe Heath’s office and I also attended –it was Dave Matthews Band after all- but also to see for ourselves if Onondaga County’s assertions were accurate that certain areas didn’t need much remediation because “no one will go in the wooded areas.”
Onondaga County officials apparently have never been to an outdoor concert.
The Amphitheater is built on a Superfund site, one that is still undergoing active remediation. While 1-2 feet of clean soil and grass covers much of the areas where concertgoers are, “wooded areas” are covered with only 0.5 feet of mulch, and there are other areas immediately adjacent to the Amphitheater and parking lot areas that have yet to be remediated – that is, have any waste removed or cover placed on them.
The Onondaga Nation’s environmental attorney, Alma Lowry, has consistently pointed out that minimal fencing, a lack of signs, and assuming no one will go in these areas puts people at risk. She was right.
We observed hundreds of people walking into unremediated areas between the Orange parking lot and the West Shore Trail in search of a bit of privacy to relieve themselves. One such area was clearly a construction zone marked “authorized personnel only,” but lacking any sort of barrier. The heavily treed areas to the south had no such warnings or signage. Both areas are part of the Superfund site and currently unremediated. Those trees have grown up over time growing directly on Solvay Waste. I hope no one tried digging a cat hole!
The parking lots themselves have 2-7’ of gravel over the waste but even within the top 6” there are documented levels of contaminants. These include aluminum, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, chromium, hexavalent chromium, mercury, nickel, and pesticides. The area with the most known contamination was to the northern end of the Orange lot, and we were glad to see that area (near the VIP area), had new gravel and mulch on top of the old surface. Sampling of the rest of the parking lot is much more sparse, however, and even the trucks watering the lot could not keep all the dust down. There are no plans for further capping of the parking lot at this time.
Once inside the gates, people quickly got frustrated by the lines for the port-a-potties and started hopping over a low split-rail fence and heading out into a neighboring grassy field. There were no signs to dissuade them. However, that “grassy field” is the Crucible hazardous waste landfill, where Onondaga County said people wouldn’t go.
The Crucible landfill is indeed a hazardous site. This site is one of the many spots where industrial wastes (far more hazardous than the relatively inert Solvay wastes) were dumped. Chromium is the primary pollutant and may be a historic source for the chromium hotspots in other parts of the wastebeds. Although the landfill has a fairly substantial cap (an estimated 36” of soil and cobblestone), it was not designed for heavy use by the public and there are uncovered patches of Solvay waste running along the western edge of the landfill.
Nyawenha to the security guards who had the thankless task of trying to keep people on the correct side of the fence. We asked one guard how many people had crossed the fence that night. “Thousands,” he told us.
In a nicely done move, when DMB played the song “Don’t Drink the Water,” the big screens showed images of Onondaga Lake. Now he needs to write a new song: “Don’t Go In The Field.”
We asked multiple security staff if they knew why people weren’t allowed over the fence. The most inventive response was one who said, “Confidentially? Crocodiles. With very, very big teeth.” All of the security personnel, including two Onondaga women, said that they had not been told that it was a hazardous waste site.
The Amphitheater is going to continue to attract big name acts and thousands of people. It is very important that if people attend, they stay on the trails and developed areas of the Amphitheater, take care to not breathe in too much dust in the parking lots, and don’t spend too much time in enclosed areas like the permanent restrooms. While vapor barriers of varying thicknesses were installed under the buildings to theoretically prevent VOCs and benzene from accumulating in those areas, there is no indoor air quality testing in the bathrooms to ensure it is working.
Please share what you now know to help keep people safe.
Onondaga Lake suffers from a legacy of industrial pollution– the lake itself is a Superfund site. It is getting better, but it needs people to advocate for more waste to be removed. Please sign the petition for a better future for Onondaga Lake!