Onondaga Lake is considered the dirtiest in America. This lake has been kept in pristine condition before the European settlers arrived in the region. Situated in Central New York, it had sacred or religious significance to the native Iroquois people.
But decades of heavy industrialization led to a path of destruction and high pollution. While its waters are not as polluted as they once were, high mercury levels still trouble those who measure water quality levels.
Onondaga Lake is suffering from the heavy industries around it and the rising numbers of people in Syracuse. Industries born on the lake’s shores are some of the most damaging. Salt brine is one of the materials sought after here. Limestone is also found here. All of these materials were and are used to create chemicals. Some of these chemicals are detergents. It’s known that most detergents are harmful to the environment and the areas where it is manufactured are sometimes known for the problems it creates. Paper is also made from these raw materials. While not as dangerous to the environment as detergents, it still was a catalyst for the local industries that failed to take care of the environment.
Mercury and other heavy metals have been found to contaminate the lake’s waters. Industries here even dumped millions of pounds of chloride and sodium into the lake. These companies were closed eventually, but the damage has already been done.
Waste from the increasing population
Sewage wastewater is another constant source of pollution in this lake. It takes a considerable physical effort and a considerable financial effort to stop this and to ensure better waste disposal.
Human waste is a large source of pollution in Onondaga Lake. There’s no treatment applied to this human sewage which means ammonia gets in the water in high amounts. An entire domino effect has been noted due to high ammonia and phosphorus. This has led to the overgrowing of algae in the water. At some point, algae die and the decomposing process requires oxygen. When there are too many dead algae in the water, oxygen levels drop considerably threatening fish life. This is what happened in the lake as fish died due to dangerously low oxygen levels.
Cleaning up the lake
A few decades ago, the state of New York went to trial with companies that polluted this beautiful lake. The state won and these companies had to close down and to clean up the lake. Dredging techniques have been put into place to eliminate the sediments at the bottom of the lake. The dredging took the contaminated soil West to Camillus.
Since then, over 50 species of fish came back to the lake. It seems that the natural ecosystem can be restored fully in the following decade. Fishing also came back to the lake in limited amounts. Back in 1970, fishing was banned due to high mercury levels but it’s reassuring to see these contamination levels drop year by year.