Hazardous wastes from industrial facilities, including Honeywell International Inc. (Honeywell) and its predecessor companies, were discharged to Onondaga Lake in New York, its tributaries, and associated uplands from approximately 1881 to 1986. These releases contained a suite of contaminants, including large quantities of mercury. Hazardous substances released to Onondaga Lake include, but are not limited to the following: mercury, PCBs, lead, cadmium, chromium, nickel, benzene, chlorinated benzenes, toluene, xylene, PAHs, and pesticides, including aldrin and dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane. Mercury was found in sediments throughout the lake with higher concentrations found in the Ninemile Creek delta and in sediments in the southwestern portion of the lake in an area known as “in-lake waste deposit.” The southwestern portion of the lake also contained some of the highest concentrations of other chemicals such as BTEX, PCBs, PAHs, dioxins, and furans.
Natural resources (e.g., surface water, sediments, invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals) have been exposed to and adversely affected by these contaminants. The Trustees, the United States Department of the Interior, acting through the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and the State of New York, acting through the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), evaluated injury from the hazardous substance to sediment-dwelling invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, soil invertebrates, bats, and birds utilizing measured and modeled contaminant concentration data to inform the expected magnitude and severity of injury.
Unlike most waterbodies in urban areas, the lake does not have residences located on its shoreline, enhancing its value to fish and wildlife resources. Onondaga Lake is within the Atlantic flyway and provides habitat for a number of DOI trust species, including 112 species of birds during the breeding season, 70 over-wintering species, including bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), and 15 waterfowl and 6 waterbird species. Migratory shorebirds forage in the shallow water and mud flats along the lakeshore. Waterfowl use the lake for nesting during the breeding season, and for feeding and resting during migration they also nest along the northwest shoreline of the lake and in marshes near the Ninemile Creek waste beds.
Prior to the onset of industrial discharges, the lake supported a coldwater fishery with species such as Atlantic salmon, cisco, American eel, and burbot. By 1927, a fishery survey reported that the coldwater fishery had been disturbed due to the impacts of soda ash production. The Onondaga Lake fishery is now characterized as a warmwater fish community dominated by the pollution-tolerant gizzard shad, freshwater drum, carp, and white perch. Sunfish are abundant in the littoral zone. The lake supports several important sportfish, including channel catfish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and walleye. A total of 57 species have been recorded between 1927 and 1994.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) placed Onondaga Lake on the National Priorities List (NPL) on December 16, 1994. In addition, nine sites were listed as "sub-sites" of the Onondaga Lake NPL site. Since 1995, Honeywell, in cooperation with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and the EPA, has removed and isolated contaminated sediments in Onondaga Lake and its tributaries, associated floodplain and uplands, and implemented habitat improvement projects. These remedial actions, while beneficial, do not themselves compensate the public for past, present, and future contaminant-related injuries to natural resources.
The Trustees released a final Restoration Plan in August 2017. In March 2018, the Trustees settled a natural resource damage claim with the Responsible Parties, Honeywell International Inc. and Onondaga County, New York, for the Onondaga Lake Superfund Site in Onondaga County, New York. The “March 2018 Onondaga Lake Natural Resource Damage Consent Decree” outlines specific restoration projects to be implemented by Honeywell and also includes additional funding for Trustee sponsored natural resource restoration projects. Specifically, this funding “shall be applied toward the costs of restoration, rehabilitation, or replacement of injured natural resources, and/or acquisition of equivalent resources, including, but not limited to, any administrative, legal, oversight and maintenance costs, and expenses necessary for, and incidental to, restoration, rehabilitation, replacement and/or acquisition of equivalent resources.”
The 18 restoration projects to be implemented by Honeywell will improve and conserve habitat in and around Onondaga Lake and significantly increase recreational opportunities for the community. The details of the 18 restoration projects are outlined within Appendix C of the Consent Decree, Scopes of Work (SOW, see file: March 2018 Onondaga Lake Consent Decree Final Appendix C - Scopes of Work.pdf) and the 2018 Restoration Work Plan for Onondaga Lake Natural Resource Restoration Projects (see file: Final Restoration Workplan).
Honeywell restoration projects completed as of February 2021 include the below seven projects with the remaining projects 11 projects in design and implementation phases:
• Maple Bay Shallow Water Vegetative Enhancements (SOW 1)
• In Lake Habitat Structures (SOW 4)
• Wetland Conservation: 200 acres (SOW 5)
• Erie Canal Trail Project (SOW 11)
• Southwest Shore Recreation Trail Project (SOW 12)
• Onondaga Lake Boat Launch Amenities (SOW 15)
• Seneca River Boat Launch (SOW 18)
Trustee sponsored restoration projects currently underway that were submitted by community organizations and others in response to a recent public notice of funding opportunity include:
• property acquisition of 252 acres, habitat restoration, and public access within the Onondaga Lake watershed
• tree planting along the Erie Canal Trail
• riparian corridor restoration along an urban trail
• and a kayak/canoe launch along Onondaga Creek in the City of Syracuse