Dec 18, 2011 Amanda Wada Uncategorized
President Nixon, who had shown little interest in environmental issues before the first Earth Day celebrations in 1970, suddenly began to take note of the political possibilities. In a savvy effort to promote environmentalism, Nixon spearheaded the Clean Air Act of 1970, which represented a monumental shift in environmental law by giving private citizens power to sue to enforce a statute. Nixon was a famous adherer to Federalism, but despite his fierce commitment to directing power and money away from the federal government, the president created two new agencies, the Department of Natural Resources, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
In 1971, Senator Edmund Muskie introduced the Clean Water Act into Congress, which was similar to the Clean Air Act, but protective of water. The act became law in 1972.
The Clean Water Act set water quality standards, limited the amount of pollutants that could enter a body of water, and gave the brand new EPA the power to enforce those standards. The act was amendment in 1977 and 1987, adding additional regulations to the act.
In 1988, the Atlantic States Legal Foundation together with the New York state Attorney General and the New York state DEC filed a complaint against Onondaga County for violations of the Clean Water Act at Onondaga Lake. The Atlantic States Legal Foundation is a legal organization that was founded in Syracuse in 1982 to help citizens “effectively remediate threats to the natural environment,” according to their website, aslf.org.
At the time, Onondaga Lake contained over 120 micrograms per liter of phosphorus from the decades of raw sewage that had been steered into the lake by the municipalities. In 1960, a wastewater treatment plant had been built, but sewage runoff continued to add to the lakes pollution.
As a result of the complaint against Onondaga County, a consent judgment required the county to evaluate the need for upgrading the waste-treatment plant, METRO, and include treatment of sewer overflow.
The METRO plant was upgraded in 2004 with new, advanced treatments for phosphorus, ammonia, and a UV filter. Water quality quickly improved, according to Matthew Millea, Deputy County Executive for Physical Services.
“We used to be at 120 micrograms per liter [of phosphorus], and that was around 1987, which was really the peak of the nutrient loading into the lake from the waste-water treatment facility. By 2008, we had exceeded the court ordered goal of falling below 20 micrograms per liter,” Millea said.
Onondaga County was not solely responsible for the pollution of Onondaga Lake. As we discussed last week, Syracuse’s chemical industry, namely AlliedSignal (now Honeywell International, Inc.), which had thrived throughout the 1900s, had desecrated the lake and surrounding areas with hazardous chemicals such as mercury, pesticides, heavy metals, and other contaminants that affected fish, wildlife and the natural habitat.
In 1989, the state of New York sued AlliedSignal to pay for the damages in and around the lake, and cleanup the hazardous materials. The company began investigating cleanup options in 1992.
In December, 1994, Onondaga Lake was identified as a federal Superfund site, giving the EPA the power to enforce remediation, and oversee the cleanup. AlliedSignal would be responsible for the cost of the cleanup, as determined by the EPA.
For 12 years, AlliedSignal, who merged with Honeywell International, Inc. in 1999, studied possible remediation plans and finally submitted a feasibility study in 2004 to the EPA and New York state DEC, who had been given the lead on the Onondaga Lake cleanup project by the EPA.
The feasibility study proposed a range of remediation possibilities from doing nothing to dredging and capping the most of the lake. Ken Lynch is the NYSDEC regional director for region 7, which includes Onondaga County. He was instrumental in the development of the proposed plan.
“Through years and years of investigation, we identified the most contaminated areas throughout the lake, and those were the areas that we determined needed the most dredging to be protective of human health and the environment,” he said.
“We selected a remedy that we felt was first and foremost protective of human health and the environment, and met the goals of restoring the lake and of eliminating the potential impact of the contaminants to the environment.”
Before a formal decision could be made, and work begun, a public comment period was necessary to allow for public input. During an on-the-record public hearing, in Jan., 2005, it was clear that Syracuse-area citizens felt they had waited long enough, and wanted Honeywell to move forward with the cleanup.
“I would offer that people who I talked to are excited about an opportunity to see something positive happen with Onondaga Lake,” said then Legislature Dale Sweetland. “It’s necessary, not only for the city, the county and the Central New York region, but it’s very important to have this lake come back to life and be a vital part of this community.”
“Onondaga Lake is a jewel for our community and the city of Syracuse,” said the sitting mayor of Liverpool, Marlene Ward. “The lake is a resource that any city would envy. We gained a lot of notoriety as the most polluted lake in the land. Now we’ll have a new reputation as an example of state-of-the-art remediation of one of the largest Superfund sites in the nation. So we look forward to the earliest implementation possible and support for the recommended plan the DEC has put forward.”
While there was an overwhelming desire to move forward, and “bring the lake back to life,” there were also some concerns. Dredged sediments from the lake were to be piped to a waste bed in Camillus owned by Honeywell. Residents were concerned about the pollution in their backyard, and the odor.
“There was legitimate concern from the public about whether or not transporting the waste up to the wastebed and storing it up there would impact the community,” said Lynch. “We spent a lot of time providing information, and actually did an additional human health risk assessment on that proposal to demonstrate that both the transportation and storage of materials on the wastebeds would be done in a safe, protective manner.”
In July 2005 a Record of Decision was filed, which served as an agreement between the NYSDEC, the EPA, and Honeywell. The ROD outlined the process in which Honeywell would remediate Onondaga Lake and the surrounding areas of concern.
The first step of remediation was to control wastebeds that had been improperly handled, and contamination sites around the lake which were leaking contaminates into the lake. Honeywell could not begin dredging the lake to remove contaminates until the surrounding areas were contained.
In 2006, Honeywell began to clean the contamination sites around Onondaga Lake. One major problem site was LCP, an abandoned storage site that had contained a troublesome amount of mercury. According to the company, seven tons of mercury was removed from the site that year.
To discourage water leaking through the site and into the groundwater, Honeywell began work with ESF on an innovative project involving willow shrubs.
“The goal is really to minimize the amount of water that percolates down through that material,” said Tim Volk, Senior Research Associate at SUNY ESF. “The idea is that we put plants on there and as the rain comes in there’s a couple of things that happen. Number one is they intercept a portion of the rain, which then gets evaporated back into the atmosphere without reaching the ground, and then if they’re growing on the site the plants are pulling water out of the soil and then pumping it up into the atmosphere as they grow, so they basically are creating a vegetative cover up there.”
The shrubs are harvested every three years, and used as biomass.
The shrub willow project eventually expanded to wastebed sites, and approximately 2000,000 plants have been planted over 35 acres of Honeywell property.
To stop contaminated groundwater or sediments from entering the lake, Honeywell has constructed steel paneled underground barrier walls and buried them along the shoreline, Honeywell’s Syracuse Program Director, John McAuliffe explained.
There is a confining layer of clay underneath the barrier walls, so groundwater can be collected and pumped to a water treatment plant before it enters the lake. Highly contaminated sediment will be pumped and trucked out of state to a permitted hazardous waste facility in Baltimore, Ken Lynch said.
The underground barrier walls were completed and pounded into the ground along the shoreline early in December of this year. Honeywell will begin dredging and capping contaminated areas of the lake bottom in 2012.
“Many things were done to assure that basically the dredging operation is a closed system operation,” Ken Lynch said. “We’re not exposing the sediments during the process, we’re hydraulically dredging them – basically vacuuming them from the bottom of the lake – putting them into a double-wall pipe to transfer them up to the containment area, and once they get up to the containment area they are pumped into geo-tubes, de-watered, and ultimately covered and capped.”
Water and sediment will pass through 4 miles of double-walled pipeline, made from high density polyethylene plastic, from the bottom of Onondaga Lake to geotubes set in Honeywell owned wastebeds in Camillus.
“The pipeline is a pipe within a pipe, with interstitial space that allows for monitoring and leak detection equipment,” McAulliffe said. Drivers can see the black pipeline along I-690 near the Lakeland exit.
Geotubes, the ultimate location of contaminated sediment, are “high strength, woven plastic,” according to McAuliffe.
The geotubes are basically very large, very state-of-the-art, high-tech garbage bags. 30 feet in diameter and 100 feet long, geotubes are fitted with a porous inner layer so that contaminated sediments settle to the bottom of the tubes, and water can be removed and treated.
To prevent water from leaking into the waste and mining out, the closed tubes are set over a composite clay liner, a protective polyethylene liner, and a drainage collection system. Once filled, the area will be capped with another protective layer and monitored.
Honeywell and the DEC will be seeking the community’s input as to the Camillus wastebed’s final purpose, but Ken Lynch envisions passive recreational uses.
“I don’t want to predict the end result because we want community input to get that,” Lynch said. “We have had public interest in possibly re-using those wastebeds. We want to do it in a manner where you can at least get some passive recreation on the site, maybe some trails or other recreational facilities up on the site that people can utilize once it’s closed from an environmental standpoint.
“The process, that we’re just starting to develop now, will be some public outreach with the town of Camillus and town of Geddes and community meetings to get ideas about what people would like to see on the wastebeds, and see if we can have various uses that are compatible with closing the waste-beds,” Lynch continued.
The material that passes through the geotubes will be 90 percent water and 10 percent sediment, according to McAuliffe. The water will be piped to a treatment plant that will be constructed onsite, and then passed along to METRO for tertiary treatment before being put back into the lake by METRO.
“It really was not necessary or appropriate for Honeywell to build their own primary, secondary, tertiary treatment system when we have a state of the art one right here at the METRO facility,” Matthew Millea said. “I think the DEC working with Honeywell and ourselves came up with a very cost effective and pragmatic approach to do pretreatment and then tertiary treatment at our wastewater treatment facility.”
After dredging areas of the lake, each area will be capped with a clay layer, and then covered with sand and a habitat layer.
“The design is geared towards optimizing the cap for habitat,” McAuliffe said. Different areas of the lake will have different habitat layers. For example, said McAuliffe, a layer of gravel may be used in shallow areas, which would be idea for fish spawning. Other material may be optimal to recreate wetlands for pike reproduction.
The dredging and capping process will continue until 2016 before the project is finished, but many Syracuse organizations are already setting their sites on a clean, active, usable lake. Next week, we’ll discuss that vision, and the remarkable story of how many Syracuse entities are working together to make that vision a reality.