Empowering Communities, Advocating Solutions


Imagre of industry on Onondaga Lake.

Onondaga Lake

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Onondaga Lake, located on the northwest side of Syracuse, NY, is improving after a century of abuse. Great strides in water quality improvements have been made as a result of action required under the Clean Water Act and Superfund by Onondaga County and Honeywell International, respectively. CCE is active in efforts to remediate toxic pollution and improve overall water quality of Onondaga Lake.

CCE was appointed and elected chair of the Community Participation Working Group (CPWG) to facilitate public involvement and provide recommendations for the Superfund remediation of the Onondaga Lake bottom Record of Decision.

Ley Creek PCB Clean-Up

On October 28, 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice (US DOJ) published its proposed Settlement on behalf of GM to clean up areas it polluted before GM declared bankruptcy in 2009. The US DOJ had a 30-day public comment period on the proposed Settlement.

The proposed Settlement does not require GM to fully clean up the PCBs it discharged into Ley Creek for 40 years from its GM-IFG Manufacturing Facility. Instead it makes an arbitrary distinction that the contamination stops at the Route 11 bridge, and only allocates $8 million for cleanup. Onondaga County has estimated that the proposed Settlement would leave $50 million in unfunded cleanup costs that would come at taxpayer expense.

Save the Rain!

Onondaga County is actively implementing green infrastructure solutions to reduce sewer overflows and improve Onondaga Lake water quality. The County’s innovative Save the Rain program is targeting key sewersheds and implementing a suite of smart, green, and clean stormwater management solutions.

About Onondaga Lake

Sacred waters to the Onondaga Nation, Onondaga Lake is a symbol of peace and democracy, hosting the historic gathering of Native American nations to plant the tree of peace - to symbolize the end of war, killing and violence and form the Confederacy, or Haudenosaunee.

Once a celebrated resort area, Onondaga Lake was fouled by a legacy of industrial chemical and municipal sewage contamination that resulted on bans on fishing and swimming. Inadequate sewage treatment led to a ban on swimming in 1940. Fishing was banned in 1970 because of industrial mercury contamination. The fishing ban prompted the New York State Attorney General to sue Allied Chemical Corp. (later known as AlliedSignal, which is present-day Honeywell) to stop mercury dumping, which was calculated to be 22 pounds of mercury per day. In 1995, Onondaga Lake was added to the Federal Superfund National Priority List.

In 1992, AlliedSignal, now known as Honeywell, entered into a consent decree with the State of New York to initiate the Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study for Onondaga Lake. Fourteen years later, Honeywell completed the Feasibility Study and presented its findings to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC). This study documented the extent of pollution throughout the Lake and identified key “hot spots,” where toxic contamination was found as deep at 27 feet below the sediment.

Image pointing to cleanup and resoration of Onondaga Lake.

Hope Returns to Onondaga Lake

Photo courtesy of The University Of the State of New York / New York State Education Department / Office of Cultural Education

Record of Decision

New York State issued its Record of Decision (ROD) in July 2005 after reviewing the public comments received during the 90-day public comment period. The State anticipates cleanup costs to be about $451 million in the three-year design phase and the four-year construction phase. While the State supervises the remediation efforts, Honeywell is responsible for paying for the cleanup costs.

Key elements of the ROD include:

  1. Dredging of as much as an estimated 2,653,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment/waste from the lake.
  2. Placement of an isolation cap over an estimated 425 acres of the shallower portion (where water depths are less than 30 feet) of the lake bottom.
  3. Placement of a thin-layer cap over an estimated 154 acres of the deeper portion (where water depths are greater than 30 feet) of the lake bottom.
  4. Completion of a comprehensive lakewide habitat restoration plan.
  5. Habitat reestablishment in areas where dredging/capping will occur.
  6. Implementation of a long-term operation, maintenance, and monitoring (OM&M) program to monitor and maintain the effectiveness of the remedy.

CCE’s Onondaga Lake Document Repository

Honeywell’s lake page

The US EPA’s lake page

Onondaga County’s lake page

NYSDEC’s final decision on the Onondaga Lake cleanup plan

CCE comments to DEC on the Onondaga Lake Agreement, November 13, 2006

CCE’s testimony on the Geddes Brook/Ninemile Creek Operable Unit 1 cleanup, December 10, 2008

CCE’s testimony on the Remedial Design Work Plan and Citizen Participation Plan for Onondaga Lake, November 20, 2008

Updated by seckel 12/13/10