State: Lake pollution
greater than reported
Honeywell doesn't challenge study that assigns it more responsibility for
February 07, 2003
By Mark Weiner, Staff writer
Onondaga Lake's industrial pollution is greater and more
widespread than previously reported by the lake's biggest polluter, the
former Allied Chemical complex in Solvay, according to a new state
In the state's most extensive study of the lake's
industrial pollution, scientists found mercury pollution throughout the
lake and its sediments. The study concluded that more than 65 percent of
the mercury still leaking into the lake today is from Allied's former
Honeywell International merged with Allied in 1999 and is
responsible for paying for the cleanup, which could total hundreds of
millions of dollars and take years to complete. Honeywell must come up
with cleanup plans and cost estimates by May 31.
The industrial cleanup is separate from Onondaga County's
$380 million, 15-year program to stop polluting the lake with sewage. That
cleanup began in 1998.
Honeywell's own study of its industrial pollution was
rejected by the state in 2001. The company claimed it was responsible for
less than half of the mercury still entering the lake. It also said
mercury deposited by Allied in the lake's sediments over decades was not a
major source of contamination.
The state's report, the result of a new analysis and
rewrite of Honeywell's work, found otherwise.
"Clearly under this report there is more extensive
industrial contamination from Allied/Honeywell than was previously
reported," said Ken Lynch, regional director of the state Department of
"We now know more about the lake bottom and the impact of
hazardous waste than we have ever known before," Lynch said. "Now we can
make the important decisions on how to clean the lake bottom. We've also
defined the extent of contamination in the lake itself."
The findings are contained in a seven-volume, 8,100-page
set of studies made public this week. The state paid for the studies but
will send the bill to Honeywell International of Morristown, N.J. The
state is still determining its costs.
Last year the state rejected Honeywell's $2 million study
of the Onondaga Lake pollution, which was supposed to answer questions
from a rejected $7 million study completed several years earlier.
Now the issue of dueling studies may be put to rest.
Honeywell had until Jan. 30 to challenge or dispute the state report but
allowed the deadline to pass without raising objections.
"I consider it a major milestone in moving the hazardous
waste portion of the lake cleanup forward," Lynch said of the new report.
John McAuliffe, Honeywell's manager of remediation and
evaluation services in Syracuse, said the company still differs with the
state on some aspects of the study.
"We chose not to formally dispute the state's revisions
because we believe the best approach is to move forward with the next
phase of the cleanup," McAuliffe said Thursday.
He said the company wants to do its share to restore
"We continue to be committed to working with the DEC and
local government to achieve the shared goal of improving the quality of
the lake," McAuliffe said.
The state's new study suggests Honeywell researchers
minimized or failed to fully account for pollution levels in several
Mercury contamination found throughout the lake's
sediments. The highest concentrations are in the Nine Mile Creek delta and
along the southwestern shore where Allied Chemical deposited waste
extending beyond Harbor Brook, according to the state study.
The amount of mercury buried in the sediments. The state
said mercury contaminates the upper 6 feet of the lake's sediments. At the
Nine Mile Creek delta, mercury was found extending to a depth of at least
15 feet in the sediment.
High concentrations of heavy metals such as lead, nickel
and zinc in the top 6 feet of sediment throughout the lake.
Concentrations of mercury in the lake's water. The
contamination is highest in the near-shore areas around both Nine Mile
Creek and on the southwestern shore, where Allied deposited waste, the
The chemical contamination still entering the lake today.
The state found the chemical pollution entering the lake is at least five
times higher than the contamination leaving the lake.
In releasing the report, DEC Commissioner Erin Crotty
issued a statement affirming the state's support for the lake cleanup.
"Onondaga Lake is making a remarkable recovery and we are
continuing to obtain vital information to support our efforts to clean up
and revitalize this important resource," Crotty said.
The commissioner did not elaborate or say what specific
evidence indicates the lake is recovering.
A DEC spokesman in Albany said the commissioner was
referring, in general, to water quality improvements in recent years that
are not related to Onondaga Lake's industrial pollution.
The state will sponsor a public session to discuss the
results from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the New York State Fairgrounds.
Staff from the DEC, state Health Department and U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency will be available to answer questions in
the Martha Eddy Room of the Art and Home Center. No formal presentation is
"This is such a huge document, it's hard to explain in one
presentation," Lynch said. "We decided it would be better to spend time
one-on-one with the people who have questions." County's view
David Coburn, Onondaga County's environment director, said
county officials are still reviewing the state's report.
"In simple terms, it's a vast improvement, but there's a
long way to go," Coburn said.
For years, County Executive Nicholas Pirro has accused
Allied and Honeywell of shirking their responsibility by attempting to
shift blame for their pollution. Pirro was especially outraged when Allied
claimed 24 percent of the ongoing mercury pollution comes from the
county's sewage treatment plant in Syracuse.
"The reports done by Honeywell in the past were an obvious
attempt to shift the blame and liability away from themselves," Coburn
said. "What the state has done here is a vast improvement over what
Honeywell has done."
Coburn said the county still has concerns about some
technical shortcomings in the state's report.
The state also conducted a human health risk assessment,
and attempted to quantify the pollution's impact on fish and wildlife
living in and around Onondaga Lake. The state officials who conducted
those studies were unavailable for comment Thursday.
Henrietta Hamel, the state health official in Syracuse
familiar with the study, referred comment to officials in Albany, who had
no response Thursday.
Mary Jane Peachey, the DEC's regional engineer in
Syracuse, said it was clear the state had significant differences in its
study as compared with Honeywell. She was asked if Honeywell intentionally
tried to mislead state officials.
"I don't know if there was an intentional effort," she
said. "I'm sure they had their reasons for doing what they did. But we
felt strongly that enough key elements needed to be changed that we needed
to do it ourselves."
© 2002 The Post-Standard.