As Onondaga Lake cleanup winds down, new threats to lake, rivers emerge

Updated on September 8, 2017 at 12:58 PM Posted on September 8, 2017 at 11:57 AM

By Glenn Coin


Syracuse, N.Y. — As the cleanup of industrial pollution in Onondaga Lake enters its last phases, scientists are turning their attention to new threats to the lake, its river system and Lake Ontario.

Researchers from Syracuse University and the Upstate Freshwater Institute this summer are measuring the amount of pesticides, personal care products and pharmaceuticals pouring into the lake and river system from water treatment plants. The chemicals, known as "contaminants of emerging concern," are suspected of altering the function of hormones in humans and wildlife.

Onondaga Lake is particularly susceptible to those contaminants because up to 20 percent of the water that flows into the lake comes through the Onondaga County water treatment plant at the south end. That might be the highest percentage of any lake in the state, said Dave Matthews, director of the freshwater institute and one of the researchers in the study.

"It’s a relatively large treatment plant and a relatively small lake," he said. "The lake gets 20 percent of its water from a wastewater treatment plant that wasn’t designed to eliminate these emerging contaminants. It would seem to be an interesting place to look for them."

Researchers are collecting water samples from Onondaga Lake and the Oneida, Seneca and Oswego rivers all the way to Lake Ontario. The $24,502 study is funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

"This region serves as a prime site for this research because it receives high volumes of treated sewage from municipal wastewater treatment plants and is a major source of water to Lake Ontario," according to the initiative.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has put a new focus on emerging contaminants, which include personal care products that contain microbeads, pesticides, and drugs that pass through human digestive systems and then through sewage treatment plants into the environment.

The chemicals are part of a group called endocrine disruptors, which can "alter the normal functions of hormones, resulting in a variety of health effects" on humans and wildlife, the EPA said.

"Contaminants of emerging concern … are increasingly being detected at low levels in surface water," the EPA said, "and there is concern that these compounds may have an impact on aquatic life."

Matthews said the study will give the first glimpse into the amount of emerging contaminants in the lake and river system.

"This grant is intended to provide seed money to take an initial look to see if there’s anything interesting that would be deserving of further research," Matthews said.

The contaminants could be one reason Onondaga Lake has fewer amphibians than similar lakes, Matthews said.

"There’s a potential linkage between these emerging contaminants and the reproduction of sensitive organisms," Matthews said. "Amphibians tend to be one of the most sensitive species, so they can tell you about the health of the ecosystem."

Other research has suggested that mercury, which was dumped into the lake for decades and infiltrated the food chain from frogs to bats, might also be a culprit behind the low number of amphibians around the lake.

Matthews said water samples taken this summer will be analyzed and processed over the winter, and a results should be reported in early 2018.


“Trash is a problem, or not”

Cuomo Doubling Litter Fine To $100 To Combat Trash In Subway System

WCBS TV, September 7th, 2017


Cuomo took a tour overnight of filthy track beds along the downtown No. 6 line in Union Square to shine a light on what he calls the epidemic of subway system trash.

“We have to stop the trash and the litter,” Cuomo said.

Every day discarded items get whipped up when trains rush in and out and they wind up on tracks where water, much of it coming from thousands of leaks in the stations, move bottles, paper, and other trash to the drains, clogging them, CBS2’s Dave Carlin reported.

Cuomo explained the clogged drains lead to delays and major problems, including rusted rails and rotted ties.

And in dry conditions the trash can catch fire.

In July, garbage caught fire on the tracks in Harlem and disrupted morning rush hour service for thousands of subway riders. Nine people were treated for smoke inhalation.

“The amount of trash and debris that comes out of the subway system is literally unbelievable. This has just started, crews have removed 2.3 million pounds of dirt and trash, 70,000 pounds in a single day,” Cuomo said.

As part of the effort to crack down on litterbugs, Cuomo announced fines for littering will double next week from $50 to $100.

“You’re going to get a ticket for $100 and $100 is a real fine,” Cuomo said.

The subway anti-littering effort is the state’s so taking the lead with enforcement is the Department of Environmental Conservation.

“The Department of Environmental Conservation has a police force we intend to put to use for this purpose,” a DEC official said.

But MTA Police and NYPD officers will also enforce it.

The governor also announced the recent purchase of new equipment, including a power snake to unclog the drains, a massive vacuum and smaller vacuums that can go station to station.

Another part of the effort is fixing the more than 4,000 water leaks that have been identified in subway stations.

Cuomo also said the state is working with Con Ed on power fluctuations, which the governor says are also a major cause of delays.

Idlewild Park’s newest residents, diamondback terrapins, get protection from city, area volunteers

AM New York, August 30th, 2017


It’s tough being a terrapin in Queens.

If raccoons don’t raid their nests, other predators snatch hatchlings as they take their first steps.

But for the first time, the city is helping give some diamondback terrapins at Idlewild Park in Queens a fighting chance.

The Parks Department and local volunteers set up protective cages around 27 nests a few weeks ago and have been monitoring them since. Each nest holds between seven and 13 eggs.

The first of the hatchlings appeared Tuesday to the delight of Ellen Pehek, principal research ecologist at the Parks Department’s Natural Resources Group. Pehek said cages have been successful at keeping out the hungry raccoons, despite the masked bandits’ efforts to dig under them.

High school volunteers cut small holes in the cages so the hatchlings can crawl out.

“We think we have quite a few little babies getting ready to come out and help the population,” Pehek said.

A crew of Parks employees and volunteers from the Eastern Queens Alliance will move the tiny terrapins — not much larger than a silver dollar — to safer sites in the park.

“We want to help them get to some cover vegetation,” said Pehek. “Crows and gulls can be a problem. Sometimes the hatchlings spend winter on land, burrowing under the vegetation and don’t go into the water until next year.”

Terrapins, the primary ingredient in once-popular turtle soup, have plummeted in number over the past century due to overharvesting. The population remains relatively strong in the Jamaica Bay area, where they are often seen crawling across the runways of JFK Airport.

But the state Department of Environmental Conservation wants to stop legal harvesting of the diamondback terrapin noting “a single season of intensive harvesting has the potential to endanger this species in New York.”

Terrapins also face other man-made hazards, such as drowning in crab traps and pollution.

“They are part of the whole salt marsh ecosystem,” Pehek said. “They eat mud snails and other snails that would otherwise overpopulate and consume the marsh grasses, which help buffer storm surges. They keep the marsh going.”

Gentile legislation aims to protect Southwest Brooklyn from environmental hazards

Brooklyn Reporter, August 28th, 2017


In the wake of a large oil spill into Gravesend Bay that nearly went unnoticed, 43rd District Councilmember Vincent Gentile has introduced legislation whose goal is to protect those living in the area from hazardous chemicals present in city water bodies.

According to a statement issued by his office on August 24, Int. 1689 and Int. 1690, part of Gentile’s Shorefront Notification Package, would mandate that the Office of Emergency Management, Department of Environmental Protection and the Department Of Health and Mental Hygiene notify local councilmembers and community boards of environmental hazards, including oil spills.

“Earlier this year, a 27,000-gallon oil spill off the coast of Southwest Brooklyn was nearly swept under the rug, if not for the vigilance of environmental advocates and the media. By failing to notify any local elected officials, the state potentially jeopardized the health and safety of our constituents,” said Gentile, referring to the oil spill that leaked diesel fuel into Gravesend Bay in March of this year.

“When an oil spill, sewage overflow or any other related ecological disaster dangers water or shoreline quality, the city should use all the tools at our disposal to expeditiously notify the City Council, affected councilmembers, and affected community boards of such toxins. Local elected officials are better equipped to disseminate this information to residents than officials in Albany,” continued Gentile.

Gravesend Bay — where the city, despite a years-long protest, is in the process of constructing a waste transfer station — has long been a nexus of concern for area residents and environmentalists. Unexploded World War II munitions lie at the bottom of the body of water, which is also contaminated by a variety of toxins spewed by the Southwest Brooklyn incinerator, which was found to be operating without a permit from the 1950s through the 1980s.

Among the chemicals believed to be in the soil, as a result of the operation of the incinerator, are contaminants such as Class C acutely toxic levels of dioxins, lead, mercury, chlordanes and Mirex (an ant killer insecticide banned by the EPA in 1976.

The current bills are co-sponsored by fellow Brooklynite 45th District Councilmember Jumaane Williams and 22nd District Councilmember Costa Constantinides of Queens.

Ban on Deer Urine Could Be Next for NY State

Newser, September 5th, 2017


(Newser) – Deer hunters who like to lure their quarry with a dab of eau de doe-in-rut will have to find another way to attract a trophy buck in New York if state wildlife biologists have their way, the AP reports. Proposed regulations would add New York to a growing list of states and Canadian provinces banning deer urine lures in an effort to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease, a deadly brain infection that’s working its way through North American deer, elk, and moose populations. The disease is similar to so-called mad cow disease, which affects cattle. Both diseases are caused by infectious proteins called prions, which are believed to be shed in saliva, feces, and urine and can contaminate forage plants and build up in soil.

Since the disease was first recognized in captive mule deer in Colorado about 50 years ago, it has slowly spread to 24 states and two Canadian provinces. States have spent millions of dollars trying to halt it; Wisconsin even hired sharpshooters to kill deer in an infected area. Wasting disease was discovered in a handful of wild and captive white-tailed deer in central New York in 2005, prompting the state to enact measures to halt it. They include a feeding ban to avoid concentrating deer in one area, a prohibition on hunters bringing deer carcasses from infected states into New York, and a ban on deer farms importing livestock. New York is the only state to have eliminated the disease after it was found in wild populations, Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said.

Now the state is taking public comments through Sept. 15 on additional rules, the most controversial being the ban on scent lures using natural deer urine.

That ban doesn’t sit well with deer farmers who collect and sell urine, manufacturers who market it under names like "Code Blue" and "Buck Bomb," and hunters who dribble the foul-smelling fluid on foliage or cotton balls hung near their tree stands.

"When you’re bow hunting, you have to draw the deer in close," said Dave Vanderzee, president of the New York Deer Farmers Association and operator of a private hunting preserve. "Attractant is the only way to do it in New York because you’re not allowed to have a bait pile."

Ed Gorch, an upstate New York hunter who has been bow hunting for 45 years, said he uses deer urine and other scents, even skunk, to distract deer from his own smell. "As for switching to synthetic scents, I don’t think it would make much difference," Gorch said. "I think most sportsmen would go along with that once they realize the danger of chronic wasting disease."

Of about 275 deer farms in New York, 10 percent to 15 percent collect urine in barns with grated floors that allow urine to drain into a collection vat, Vanderzee said. A state ban on urine scents would devastate the captive deer industry, which has already suffered under a host of ever-stricter state regulations, he said.

Dr. Nicholas Haley, a veterinary researcher at Midwestern University, said the captive deer producing urine used by hunters are some of the healthiest animals in the country. Disease transmission, he said, is less likely from urine than from deer meat brought in by hunters from infected areas.

New York allows hunters to bring in venison and hides from infected states but not deer bones and brains, which are considered more likely to carry disease prions.

"We’re all for the health of the herd, which is why we partnered with the Archery Trade Association in developing stringent guidelines for collection facilities to minimize the potential for contamination," said Chip Hunnicutt, spokesman for the scent-maker Tink’s.

Tink’s also makes synthetic scent lures that are allowed in states with urine bans. Alaska, Arizona, Vermont, Virginia, Ontario and Nova Scotia have banned the use of natural deer urine and other aromatic deer secretions.

Jeremy Hurst, a New York state biologist, said "research clearly suggests there is some risk" of transmitting wasting disease through deer urine scents. In recent years, he said, the disease has been detected in captive herds previously thought to be free of it.

Krysten Schuler, a Cornell University biologist who has been researching chronic wasting disease since 2002 and helped develop New York’s response plan, said there’s no commercially available test to ensure urine products are free of disease prions.

"Until this product is proven safe, I don’t think hunters should risk contaminating their favorite hunting spot," Schuler said. "We can’t put the genie back in the bottle once it gets out there."


State Sampled More Than 1,600 Locations Believed to Still Contain High Levels of PCBs and Rejects EPA Five-Year Review that Found Hudson River Dredging Remedy Will be Protective

EPA Allows Unacceptable Levels of PCBs to Remain in River

PCBs Pose Continuing Threat to Public Health and Environment

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos today announced the state is nearing completion of their independent investigation of Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) contamination in the Hudson River.

At Governor Andrew Cuomos direction, DEC launched a sampling effort this summer to fully assess the nature and extent of contamination left behind after six years of dredging to remove PCBs was completed with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency oversight. The State also submitted comments rejecting the EPAs conclusion that the dredging sufficiently remediated the Hudson River to a level protective of public health and the environment.

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said, A remedy that fails to meet its goals for 55 years is not protective. EPA has a legal and moral obligation to complete the work they started and meet the goals the agency set when the dredging remedy was selected. Anything less is unacceptable. As I promised one year ago, in the absence of leadership and responsible action by the EPA, Governor Cuomo and New York are stepping up to protect public health and the Hudson River environment.‎

In June, EPAs proposed Five-Year Review Report found that its selected PCB cleanup remedy was not yet protective of public health and the environment but that it will be protective in over fifty years from now. DEC rejects EPAs finding based on its own research and analysis of existing information that reveal unacceptable levels of PCBs remain in the river sediments and fish tissues. DEC today submitted detailed comments to EPA challenging the conclusions reached in the Five-Year Review Report.

DECs sampling effort began in June after EPA ignored the states request to conduct additional sampling to more accurately inform their Five-Year Review. DEC scientists are collecting samples to fully assess the current levels of surface sediment contamination in the upper Hudson River, and this week will finish collecting a total of over 1,600 sediment samples from the river. When finished, the state will analyze these samples, with results from the sampling expected this fall.

The data collected will be used to evaluate recovery rates, and to help identify areas where further action is needed to meet established remedial goals. The EPA collected only 375 samples, or fewer than 10 samples for every mile of river, to inform the Five-Year Review Report. DEC determined that EPA’s sampling was inadequate and would not provide enough data to assess the efficacy of the remediation.

DEC and environmental organizations have repeatedly rejected the findings of EPA’s Five-Year Review Report on the Hudson River cleanup remedy. With unacceptably high levels of contamination remaining in river sediment, the State called on EPA to declare the remedy not protective in accordance with EPA rules, and to thoroughly reexamine its cleanup to effectively protect public health and the environment over the long term.

In addition, EPAs Five-Year Review Report indicates that the remedial work in the upper Hudson will have little or no beneficial impact in the lower Hudson. In a 2016 letter to the EPA, Commissioner Seggos challenged the performance of the remedy to achieve the targeted reductions of PCB levels in water and fish tissue within the timeframes originally anticipated by EPA. DEC then called on EPA to begin a full investigation of the PCB contamination of the lower Hudson. After EPA declined to preform additional fish sampling, DEC requested General Electric to perform the sampling to ensure sufficient numbers of fish are collected to quantify the rate of recovery in the first five years following completion of dredging.

The public comment period on the EPA report ends on September 1, 2017.

DEC is also urging EPA to enforce the remedial goals set when the decision in favor of dredging was made, which called for rapid reductions in fish PCB concentrations with goals to be met as soon as five years after the end of dredging. EPA used these targeted reductions in fish PCB concentrations to justify the need for the dredging remedy, and which originally led the State to concur that the remedy would be protective of public health and the environment.

Gardiner Congdon, Town of Moreau Supervisor said, I commend Commissioner Seggos and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for recognizing the problems left in the Hudson River and taking these important actions to conduct additional sampling and continuing to press for more action from EPA.

Ned Sullivan, President of Scenic Hudson, said, "Scenic Hudson commends Governor Cuomo and Commissioner Seggos for their leadership in achieving a healthy Hudson and restored Champlain Canal that can be the foundation for economic revitalization. Over 500 people and business leaders attended the public meetings held by EPA on its draft Five Year Review, and more than 1,000 have filed comments calling for additional cleanup of the Hudson so that the full potential of the river can be realized. We are hopeful EPA’s final report will acknowledge the true state of the river and lay the groundwork for its restoration as the foundation of the region’s health, economy and quality of life."

Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay said, We applaud the New York State DEC for taking a strong and forthright stance on the Hudson River PCB cleanup, as reflected in its just-released comments to EPA. We also thank the DEC for its efforts to pinpoint the location of PCB contamination that was left behind in the Hudson at twice the levels anticipated, after dredging operations were discontinued in 2015. Riverkeeper has been fighting this battle for more than four decades and we will submit comments soon, calling for EPA to order General Electric to complete its PCB cleanup and repair the damage they did to the Hudson. We urge the public to demand the same, and to send their own comments to EPA by visiting

Under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and the National Contingency Plan (NCP), EPA is required to monitor effectiveness of the remedy to affirm that it is meeting the goals set by the Record of Decision (ROD).

EPA must take additional remedial action if the remedy fails to meet the goals required by the ROD, including the reduction of PCB levels in fish within the timeframe EPA originally anticipated.

EPA chief backtracks on delaying rules reducing emissions

News 12 Brooklyn, August 3rd, 2017


WASHINGTON (AP) – One day after getting sued by 15 states, Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt reversed his earlier decision to delay implementation of Obama-era rules reducing emissions of smog-causing air pollutants.

Pruitt presented the change as his agency being more responsive than past administrations to the needs of state environmental regulators. He made no mention of the legal challenge filed against his prior position in a federal appeals court.

At issue is an Oct. 1 deadline for states to begin meeting 2015 standards for ground-level ozone. Pruitt announced in June he would delay compliance by one year to give his agency more time to study the plan and avoid "interfering with local decisions or impeding economic growth."

Pruitt, who was Oklahoma’s state attorney general prior to his appointment by President Donald Trump, has long served as a reliable opponent of stricter environmental regulations. Since arriving in Washington, Pruitt has repeatedly moved to block or delay regulations opposed by the chemical and fossil-fuel industries.

Wednesday’s sudden reversal is the latest legal setback for Pruitt’s regulatory rollback agenda. Last month, a federal appeals court in Washington ruled the EPA administrator overstepped his authority in trying to delay implementation of an Obama administration rule requiring oil and gas companies to monitor and reduce methane leaks.

In a statement issued Wednesday evening, Pruitt suggested his about-face on ozone standards simply reinforced the EPA’s commitment to working with states through the complex process of meeting the new standards on time.

"Under previous administrations, EPA would often fail to meet designation deadlines, and then wait to be sued by activist groups and others, agreeing in a settlement to set schedules for designation," said Pruitt, who sued EPA more than a dozen times in his prior job. "We do not believe in regulation through litigation, and we take deadlines seriously. We also take the statute and the authority it gives us seriously."

Still, the EPA’s statement said Pruitt may at some point once again use his "delay authority and all other authority legally available" to ensure regulations "are founded on sound policy and the best available information."

Republicans in Congress are pushing for a broader rewrite of the ozone rules. A House bill approved last month seeks to delay implementation of the 2015 rules at least eight years. The measure has not yet been brought to a vote in the Senate.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who led the coalition of states that sued the EPA this week, said the group intends to keep up the legal pressure.

"The EPA’s reversal – following our lawsuits – is an important win for the health and safety of those 6.7 million New Yorkers, and the over 115 million Americans directly impacted by smog pouring into their communities," Schneiderman said.

New York was joined in the case by California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, and the District of Columbia.

Ground-level ozone is created when common pollutants emitted by cars, power plants, oil refineries, chemical plants and other sources react in the atmosphere to sunlight. The resulting smog can cause serious breathing problems among sensitive groups of people, contributing to thousands of premature deaths each year.

Public health advocates and environmentalists cheered Pruitt’s surprising change of course.

"It’s disturbing how much pressure it took to get this commonsense step from the guy in charge of protecting the air we breathe," said Lori Ann Burd of the Center for Biological Diversity. "We’ve got to keep fighting the Trump administration’s ideological crusade to pander to polluters and special interests."