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PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT

ONONDAGA LAKE
SYRACUSE, ONONDAGA COUNTY, NEW YORK

CONCLUSIONS

  1. Based on the information reviewed, the Onondaga Lake site is a public health hazard. ATSDR places sites in one of five categories (see Appendix E). The public health hazard category is appropriate for this site because evidence exists that exposures have occurred to substances that can cause adverse health effects. Fish from the site are contaminated with mercury and PCBs at levels which could cause a high risk of adverse health effects. Prior to 1970, when fishing in the Lake was banned, people who ate fish from Onondaga Lake were most likely exposed to mercury and PCBs. Since 1986, when fishing was reopened in the Lake, the NYS DOH has issued and maintained an advisory recommending that no fish from Onondaga Lake be eaten. Although ingestion of contaminated fish may still be occurring, existing reports suggest that fishing pressure is light. In addition, fecal contamination of the lake continues to be a problem, especially during combined sewer overflows (CSOs). Fecal bacterial contamination of the lake poses a potential health hazard to recreational users, particularly swimmers. Swimming in the lake is minimized since public beaches have not been permitted along the shoreline. Because the primary routes of exposure to site-related contaminants are due to recreational activities at the lake, it is difficult to estimate the number of persons actually exposed. However, ATSDR and NYS DOH estimate that 216,682 persons are potentially exposed to site-related contaminants. This estimate, based on the 1990 census, is the total populations of the Towns of Salina and Geddes and the City of Syracuse bordering Onondaga Lake.

  2. The lake sediments contain several contaminants, including PAHs and mercury. Although exposure to sediments is limited, it appears that some dredging of sediments occurred and they were used as fill material north of Ninemile Creek. The mercury present in the sediments, largely from prior industrial activity, may be contributing to the contamination of fish.

  3. Odors emanating from the tar beds have been detected up to three miles away. The compound(s) responsible for the odor have not been adequately characterized.

  4. Mercury is entering the lake from Ninemile Creek and the Metro wastewater plant discharge and may be contributing to the contamination of fish and sediment.

  5. Petroleum hydrocarbons were detected at high concentrations in the sediment in the southern portion of the lake. The hydrocarbons were not adequately characterized to conduct a toxicological evaluation. The petroleum storage facilities are a possible source of the petroleum hydrocarbons that are detected in the lake sediment.

  6. There are insufficient data to assess the potential contamination and health implications from exposures to soil along most of the shoreline, air, waterfowl, sediments in the outlet from the lake, fish in the outlet of the lake including the Seneca River, and fish in the tributaries to the lake.

  7. An interim remedial measure is collecting and treating chemical contaminants (e.g., chlorobenzene, dichlorobenzene) along a portion of the southwestern shoreline.

  8. The compounds 1-phenyl-1-(4-methylphenyl)-ethane and 1-phenyl-1-(2,4-dimethyl-phenyl)-ethane have been detected in fish, sediment and water. The concentrations of these compounds and their toxicological significance are not known. A potential source of these compounds is the tar beds.

  9. The evaluation of TRI-reported emissions from industrial facilities within 2.5 miles of Onondaga Lake for 1992 showed that contaminant levels in ambient air near the lake would not exceed the screening criteria.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. Additional investigations should be conducted to determine the extent and degree of contamination of the lake shoreline, air, waterfowl or other species in the area hunted for food, and the sediments in the Barge Canal at the lake outlet.

  2. Consideration should be given to better characterize potential contaminants in fish caught in the northwest outlet of the lake and the Seneca River and in the tributaries entering the lake.

  3. The possible contamination of dredged sediments used as fill north of Ninemile Creek should be investigated. The potential for the public to access this area should also be evaluated. Any future dredging activities should be closely monitored to make sure that the dredging spoils are not distributed in a way that would significantly increase exposure to contaminants of concern in sediment.

  4. Additional investigations should better identify the source of the petroleum hydrocarbon mixture detected in the lake sediments and evaluate measures to reduce or eliminate the discharge.

  5. Monitoring of fish from Onondaga Lake for contaminants (including mercury, PCBs, and possibly chlorinated dibenzofurans, chlorinated dibenzodioxins and chlorinated benzenes) should be conducted and/or continued. Consideration should be given for measuring PAH concentrations in fish from Onondaga Lake and an appropriate reference lake.

  6. The compound(s) contributing to the odors from the tar beds should be identified, and efforts to eliminate odors and contaminant air releases from the tar beds should be considered.

  7. Measures to further reduce mercury from entering the lake should be considered.

  8. Measures to eliminate combined sewer overflows and fecal contamination of the lake should be considered.

  9. Investigations should be conducted to identify sources of PCBs and possibly chlorinated dibenzofurans in fish.

  10. Additional investigations should address the magnitude of contamination by and the toxicological significance of 1-phenyl-1-(4-methylphenyl)-ethane and 1-phenyl-1-(2,4-dimethylphenyl)-ethane.

  11. Additional data that are developed for the Onondaga Lake site should be reviewed to evaluate the possible public health significance of human exposure to contaminants in the environment.

HEALTH ACTIVITIESRECOMMENDATION PANEL (HARP)
RECOMMENDATIONS

The data and information developed for the public health assessment for the Onondaga Lake site, Syracuse, New York, has been reviewed by ATSDR's Health Activities Recommendations Panel (HARP) to determine appropriate follow-up actions. Because of past exposure, and possible current exposures to persons eating contaminated fish, the panel determined that follow-up health activities are indicated for this site. Specifically, the panel determined that community health education is needed. The NYS DOH, however, has educated, and will continue to educate, the community regarding the health hazards posed by the site as needed. In addition, the NYS DOH should contact a physician regarding his concern over the incidence of cancer in the area. No other follow-up health activities are indicated at this time.

PUBLIC HEALTH ACTIONS

The Public Health Action Plan (PHAP) for the Onondaga Lake site contains a description of actions to be taken by ATSDR and/or the NYS DOH at and near the site, following completion of this public health assessment. For those actions already taken at the site, please see the Background section of this Public Health Assessment. The purpose of the PHAP is to ensure that this health assessment not only identifies public health hazards, but provides a plan of action designed to mitigate and prevent adverse human health effects resulting from past, present and/or future exposures to hazardous substances at or near the site. Included is a commitment on the part of ATSDR and/or the NYS DOH to follow up on this plan to ensure that it is implemented. The public health actions to be implemented by ATSDR and/or the NYS DOH are as follows:

  1. ATSDR and the NYS DOH will coordinate with the appropriate environmental agencies to develop plans to implement the recommendations contained in this public health assessment.

  2. ATSDR will provide follow-up to the PHAP, outlining the actions completed and those in progress. This follow-up report will be placed in repositories that contain copies of this public health assessment, and will be provided to persons who request it.

  3. The NYS DOH will continue community health education to the affected populations, including annual reviews and updates to the state fish and game consumption advisories, as needed.

  4. The NYS DOH will evaluate measures to a) notify the public about the possible health risks associated with eating fish from Onondaga Lake, and b) provide information to the public and people who fish in the Lake about how to obtain copies of this public health assessment. The NYS DOH will contact a physician regarding his concern over cancer incidence in the area.

  5. ATSDR will initiate a literature review of available toxicological data of the compounds 1-phenyl-1-(4-methylphenyl)-ethane and 1-phenyl-1-(2,4-dimethyl-phenyl)-ethane that were detected in fish, sediment and water from the Onondaga Lake.

  6. The NYS DOH will review additional data that are developed as part of on-going investigations of Onondaga Lake. If warranted, the NYS DOH will complete additional follow-up health activities based on these reviews.

ATSDR will reevaluate and expand the Public Health Action Plan when needed. New environmental, toxicological, or health outcome data, or the results of implementing the above proposed actions may determine the need for additional actions at this site.

CERTIFICATION

The Public Health Assessment for the Onondaga Lake site was prepared by the New York State Department of Health under a cooperative agreement with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). It is in accordance with approved methodology and procedures existing at the time the public health assessment was initiated.

Technical Project Officer, SPS, SSAB, DHAC

The Division of Health Assessment and Consultation (DHAC), ATSDR, has reviewed this Public Health Assessment and concurs with its findings.

Division Director, DHAC, ATSDR

PREPARERS OF REPORT

Daniel Luttinger
Research Scientist II
Bureau of Toxic Substance Assessment
New York State Department of Health

and

Joel H. Kaplan
Research Scientist I
Bureau of Toxic Substance Assessment
New York State Department of Health

and

Lani Rafferty
Public Health Specialist II
Bureau of Environmental Exposure Investigation
New York State Department of Health

ATSDR REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVE

Arthur Block
Senior Regional Representative
Region II
Office of Regional Operations, ATSDR

ATSDR TECHNICAL PROJECT OFFICER

Greg Ulirsch
Environmental Health Engineer
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation
Superfund Site Assessment Branch

REFERENCES

The following reports were reviewed in the preparation of this PHA.

Adriano, D.C. 1986. Trace Elements in the Terrestial Environment. Springer-Verlag, New York.

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 1993a. Toxicological Profile for Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs). Update Draft. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Atlanta, Georgia: U.S. Public Health Service.

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 1993b. Toxicological Profile for Selected PCBs. ATSDR/TP-92/16. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Atlanta, Georgia: U.S. Public Health Service.

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 1992. Toxicological Profile for Mercury. Update Draft. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Atlanta, Georgia: U.S. Public Health Service.

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 1991a. Toxicological Profile for Selected PCBs. Update Draft. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Atlanta, Georgia: U.S. Public Health Service.

Armstrong, R.W., and R.J. Sloan. 1980. Trends in Levels of Several Known Chemical Contaminants in Fish from New York State Waters. DEC Publication Technical Report 80-2. June.

Blasland and Bouck Engineers, P.C. 1990. Waste Bed Feasibility Study. Allied-Signal, Inc. Solvay, New York. February.

Blasland, Bouck and Lee. 1989. Hydrogeological Assessment of the Allied Waste Beds in the Syracuse Area. Allied-Signal Inc. Solvay, New York. Volume 1.

CDR Environmental Specialists. 1991. Environmental Assessment of Lower Reaches of Nine Mile Creek and Geddes Brook, Oswego Watershed, New York. Volume 1 (Environmental Assessment). July.

Clarke, L., C. Hudson, G. Laccetti, W. Stone and B. Ungerman. 1985. Study of metal concentrations in soil and surface sand of seven New York counties. Albany, NY: New York State Department of Health, Bureau of Toxic Substance Assessment. September, 1985.

Connor, J., N.F. Shimp and J.F. Tedrow. 1957. A spectrographic study of the distribution of trace elements in some podzolic soils. Soil Science. 83: 65-73.

Davis, D.J.A. and B.G. Bennett. 1983. Exposure Commitment Assessments of Environmental Pollutants, Vol. 30. Summary exposure assessments for copper, vanadium, antimony. London: Monitoring and Assessment Research Centre, Chelsea College, University of London.

Dragun, J. 1988. The Soil Chemistry of Hazardous Material. Hazardous Materials Control Research Institute. Silver Springs, Maryland.

Driscoll, C.J. and W. Wang. 1994. Concentrations and Transport of Mercury in Onondaga Lake. Final Report Submitted to Onondaga Lake Management conference. January 25.

Edwards, N.T. 1983. Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH's) in the Terrestial Environment - A review. J. Environ. Qual. 12: 427-441.

Estabrooks, F. 1992. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) Memorandum to Peter Mack on Ley Creek - Dioxin. May 22, 1992.

Frank, R., K. Ishida and P. Suda. 1976. Metals in agricultural soils in Ontario. Can. J. Soil Science. 56: 181-196.

Groundwater Technology, Inc. 1993. DNAPL delineation and hydrogeologic analysis report. Allied Signal, Inc. Syracuse Works Facility, Solvay, New York. April 27, 1993.

Hassett, J.P. Sources of Organic Contaminants to Onondaga Lake Progress Report, February, 1994. SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

McGovern, E.C. 1988. Background concentrations of 20 elements in soils with special regard for New York State. Albany, NY: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Menzie, C.A., B.B. Potocki and J. Santodonato. 1992. Exposure to Carcinogenic PAHs in the Environment. Environ. Sci. Technol. 26: 1278-1284.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC). 1994. Fish Contamination Database.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC). Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Sites in New York State, Annual Report, April 1994.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC). 1989. Engineering Investigations at Inactive Hazardous Waste Sites. Phase II Investigation. Mercury Sediments-Onondaga Lake, Volume I, August.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC). 1987. Toxic Substances in Fish and Wildlife Analyses since May 1, 1982. Vol. 6, September.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC). 1987. An Overview of Mercury Contamination in the Fish of Onondaga Lake. July.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC). 1981. Toxic Substances in Fish and Wildlife. May 1 to November 1, 1981. Vol 4, No. 2, December.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC). 1978. Toxic Substances in Fish and Wildlife, 1977 Annual Report, Vol. 1, March.

New York State Department of Health (NYS DOH), Bureau of Cancer Epidemiology. 1985. Incidence of Cancer in Clay (Onondaga) New York.

New York State Department of Health (NYS DOH), Bureau of Cancer Epidemiology. 1990. Incidence of Cancer Around Warner's Dumpsite in the Towns of VanBuren and Camillus (Onondaga) New York.

New York State Department of Health (NYS DOH), Bureau of Environmental Exposure Investigation. Project Files: Onondaga Lake (site #734030) - Onondaga County; 1987-1994.

New York State Department of Law and Department of Environmental Conservation. 1990. Proceedings of the Onondaga Lake Remediation Conference held February 5-8, 1990 at Sagamore Conference Center, Bolton Landing, New York.

O'Brien and Gere Engineers, Inc. 1993. Remedial Investigation of Ley Creek Dredged material Area, Inland Fisher Guide Division, General Motors Corporation, Syracuse, New York, September.

Onondaga Lake Management Conference. 1993. Onondaga Lake A Plan for Action, November.

PTI Environmental Services. Onondaga Lake RI/FS Workplan, December 1991.

PTI Environmental Services. 1993a. Onondaga Lake RI/FS Substance Distribution Investigation Data Report Volume I, June.

PTI Environmental Services. 1993b. Onondaga Lake RI/FS Bioaccumulation Investigation Data Report, April.

Rogan, W.J. and B.C. Gladen. 1991. PCBs, DDE and Child Development at 18 and 24 Months. Ann. Epidemiol. 1: 407-413.

Rogan, W.J. and B.C. Gladen. 1992. Neurotoxicology of PCBs and Related Compounds. Neurotoxicology. 13: 27-36.

Shacklette, H.T. and J.G. Boerngen. 1984. Element concentrations in soil and other surficial materials of the conterminous United States. U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1270. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Stearns and Wheler. 1993. Bioaccumulation of Organic Compounds in Fish Flesh in Onondaga Lake, January.

United States Army Corps of Engineers. Buffalo District. 1992. Technical Report Onondaga Lake, New York Main Report, March.

United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). Office of Enforcement and General Counsel. 1973. Report of Mercury Source Investigation, Onondaga Lake, New York and Allied Chemical Corporation, Solvay, New York.


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