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To evaluate if a site poses an existing or potential hazard to the exposed or potentially exposedpopulation(s), the site conditions are characterized. This site characterization involves a reviewof sampling data for environmental media (e.g., soil, surface water, groundwater, air) both on-and off-site and an evaluation of the physical conditions of the contaminant sources or physicalhazards near the site which may pose an additional health risk to the community or receptorpopulation(s).

Contaminants selected for further evaluation are identified and discussed based uponconsideration of the following factors:

  1. Concentrations of contaminant(s) in environmental media both on- and off-site;

  2. Field data quality, laboratory data quality, and sample design;

  3. Comparison of on-site and off-site contaminant concentrations in environmental mediawith typical background levels;

  4. Comparison of contaminant concentrations in environmental media both on- and off-sitewith public health assessment comparison values for (1) noncarcinogenic endpoints, and(2) carcinogenic endpoints. These comparison values include Environmental MediaEvaluation Guides (EMEGs), Cancer Risk Evaluation Guides (CREGs), drinking waterstandards and other relevant guidelines. Contaminant concentrations which exceed acomparison value do not necessarily pose a health threat; and

  5. Community health concerns.

The identification of a contaminant does not necessarily mean that it will cause adverse healtheffects from exposure. Contaminants selected for further evaluation are evaluated in subsequentsections of the PHA to determine whether exposure to them has public health significance.

The On-Site Contamination and the Off-site Contamination subsections include discussions ofsampling data for environmental media. If a chemical is selected for further evaluation in onemedium, that contaminant will also be reported in all other media, if it is detected.

A. On-site Contamination

Surface Water

Several metals have been identified in Onondaga Lake. Water samples from the uppermost layerof the water column and lowermost layer of the water column have been analyzed for organiccompounds (i.e., benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene and chlorinated benzenes). Theconcentrations of the compounds detected are generally lower than the NYS DOH drinking waterand the NYS DEC Class A surface water (drinking water source) standards, with the exception ofchloride. High concentrations of chloride (about 500 milligrams per liter, or mg/L) which exceedthe NYS DOH drinking water and the NYS DEC class A surface water standards (250 mg/L),have been detected in the lake water (PTI, 1993a). The drinking water standard for chloride isbased on taste; however, since the lake is not used as a drinking water supply, the chloridecontamination will not be considered further. Some of the samples taken by Onondaga Countyin 1987-1990 were reported to have cadmium and lead at levels equal to or slightly above theNYS DOH drinking water standards or action levels. However, more recent sampling ( PTI,1993a) did not confirm these results. Although some samples contained levels of antimony(about 25 micrograms per liter, or mcg/L) and manganese (about 650 mcg/L only in deep water,i.e., 12 meters) which exceed the NYS DEC class A surface water standards or guidance values,none exceeded health assessment comparison values for recreational exposure to surface water(Table 1, Appendix B).

Fecal coliform and streptococcal bacteria in Onondaga Lake have been monitored since 1974. Levels of bacteria have declined since then, but are still present (PTI, 1991) at concentrationswhich occasionally exceed the NYS DOH standards for bathing beaches (refer to Table 2,Appendix B). The public health significance of bacterial contamination of the lake will beconsidered further in the PHA. Recently, dichlorobenzenes, naphthalene, xylenes and alkylbenzenes and two previously unidentified compounds (1-phenyl-1-(4-methylphenyl)-ethane and1-phenyl-1-(2,4-dimethylphenyl)-ethane) were found in the water at the southern end of the lake;however, no concentrations were reported (Hassett, 1994).

Although the lake water is generally considered to be horizontally well mixed and homogenous,there is the potential for higher concentrations of contaminants near localized sources. Due tothe lake stratification the concentrations of some compounds varied with water depth, and thesampling and analysis took this into account. A visible petroleum sheen was noted on the watersurface in two areas at the southern end of the lake (PTI, 1993a).


The lake sediments have been studied extensively, and contain many chemicals at concentrationsabove typical background concentrations. The type of contamination in lake sediments varies;generally, the southeastern part of the lake below Ninemile Creek is more heavily contaminatedthan the northwestern regions of the lake.

Mercury has been found in the sediment throughout the lake and at various depths. Mercury isunevenly distributed throughout lake sediment. The surface sediments in the lake near theshoreline tend to have lower contaminant concentrations than the sediments in the lake atdistances further from the shoreline (PTI, 1991). The mean (average) detected concentration ofmercury in the surface sediment is 3.8 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg), about 7.7 times higherthan the background concentration (PTI, 1993a). The range of concentrations of mercury in thesurface sediment is 0.15 mg/kg to 68.9 mg/kg. Deeper samples had a higher mean of detectedvalues (13.9 mg/kg), though the range was comparable.

Several additional metals were also found in lake sediments. The average concentration detectedin the surface sediment for cadmium (2.5 mg/kg), chromium (79.3 mg/kg), copper (44.9 mg/kg),nickel (26.6 mg/kg) and zinc (110 mg/kg) exceeded typical background ranges for metals insoils. The average concentrations for deeper sediment samples were generally two to three timeshigher than the surface sediment concentrations. Barium, cadmium, and lead were detected insome of the sediment samples at concentrations above naturally occurring levels for NYS soils(NYS DEC, 1989). The concentrations of antimony and manganese in lake sediments werewithin the background range for NYS soils. No metals were detected at concentrationsexceeding health assessment comparison values (see Table 3, Appendix B).

Several volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs) weredetected in some sediment samples (PTI, 1993a), including benzene (up to 5.7 mg/kg), toluene(up to 4.2 mg/kg), chlorinated benzenes (e.g., monochlorobenzene up to 43 mg/kg;1,4-dichlorobenzene up to 16 mg/kg; and hexachlorobenzene up to 1.2 mg/kg),bis(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (up to 3 mg/kg), and PCBs (up to 1.1 mg/kg). The averageconcentrations of total polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) detected exceed backgroundlevels; the higher concentrations were found in the southeastern portion of the lake. In addition,several different benzene compounds, PAHs, and aliphatic hydrocarbons were tentativelyidentified in some sediment samples (PTI, 1993a). Petroleum hydrocarbons were also detectedat extremely elevated concentrations (up to 47,000 mg/kg) in sediment samples at the southernend of the lake (PTI, 1993a). The petroleum hydrocarbons detected have not been adequatelycharacterized to evaluate possible public health implications. This represents a data gap thatprecludes further evaluation of petroleum hydrocarbons in this PHA. Although concentrationswere not quantified, 1-phenyl-1-(4-methylphenyl)-ethane and1-phenyl-1-(2,4-dimethylphenyl)-ethane were also detected in sediment at the southern end ofthe lake ( Hassett, 1994). A potential source of these compounds are the tar beds.

There are no comparison values for evaluating exposure to metals or organic compounds in lakesediments. However, soil comparison values do exist and the concentrations for metals abovebackground do not exceed comparison values for soil in a non-residential setting (Table 3,Appendix B). Therefore, metals found in the lake sediment will not be considered further in thishealth assessment. With the exception of PAHs, the values of the organic compounds detecteddid not exceed health comparison values for soil in a non-residential setting and will not beevaluated further in this PHA.

For some of the PAHs detected in lake sediments there are no comparison values. For thesecompounds, the comparison value for benzo(a)pyrene was used to evaluate concentrations ofcarcinogenic PAHs and the comparison value for pyrene was used to evaluate concentrations ofnon-carcinogenic PAHs. The average concentration of all carcinogenic PAHs detected exceedscomparison values for soil in a non-residential setting. The public health significance of PAHswill be considered further in the Pathways Analysis section of this PHA.


Studies of fish in Onondaga Lake by the NYS DEC have found mercury concentrations whichexceed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) action level (1 mg/kg) and healthassessment comparison values (Table 4, Appendix B) in several fish species collected from thelake. In 1970, the first year that fish data were available from Onondaga Lake, the mean mercuryconcentrations in thirteen different species ranged from 0.4 to 5.3 mg/kg. The highest mercurylevel reported for an individual fish was 8.2 mg/kg. Based on these data, a fishing ban inOnondaga Lake was issued in 1970. Mean concentrations of mercury in fish from OnondagaLake have varied since 1970; between 1970 and the mid-1980's, a general trend towards reducedmercury concentrations in fish was observed. In the mid-1980s, mean mercury concentrations insmallmouth bass was 1.2 mg/kg and in walleyes was 1.6 mg/kg. Individual fish from otherspecies also had mercury concentrations that were greater than 1 mg/kg. Additional data forsmallmouth bass, from 1987 to 1990, suggest that mercury levels in this fish species increasedcompared with earlier (mid-1980's) sampling data (average concentration about 1.6 mg/kg). Samples of smallmouth bass collected in 1992 had mean mercury concentrations of 0.91 and0.75 mg/kg in two different studies; a peak concentration of 3.4 mg/kg was also reported (PTI,1993b; NYS DEC, 1994). However, legal-size smallmouth bass (>12 inches) had a meanmercury concentration which exceeded the US FDA action level. In 1992, mean mercuryconcentrations for walleye were 1.5 and 2.3 mg/kg and about 1.1 mg/kg for white perch (PTI,1993b; NYS DEC, 1994). Gizzard shad, carp, channel catfish, and bluegill had mean mercuryconcentrations below the US FDA action level. From 1970 to 1992, the mercury concentrationin individual smallmouth bass has ranged from 0.4 mg/kg to 3.4 mg/kg.

PCBs have been detected in several different fish species from Onondaga Lake, occasionally atconcentrations exceeding the US FDA tolerance level (i.e., 2 mg/kg), and health assessmentcomparison values (Table 4, Appendix B). Smallmouth bass collected in 1972 and 1979, hadmean PCB concentrations of 0.71 and 1.1 mg/kg respectively; white perch collected in 1972 hadmean PCB concentration of 1.6 mg/kg (NYS DEC, 1981). However, sampling of both of thesefish species in 1975 showed mean PCB concentrations of 4.95 mg/kg for smallmouth bass and4.72 mg/kg for white perch ( Armstrong and Sloan, 1980). In 1985, ten different fish specieswere sampled by the NYS DEC, and only channel catfish had a mean PCB concentration whichexceeded the US FDA tolerance level (PTI, 1993b). In 1992, gizzard shad had a mean PCBconcentration of 2.2 mg/kg, and nine other species of fish had average PCB concentrationsbetween 0.1 mg/kg and 1.5 mg/kg (PTI, 1993b; NYS DEC, 1994). Some individual channelcatfish and walleye contained PCBs at concentrations of 4.7 mg/kg and 3.1 mg/kg, respectively. Some smallmouth bass, channel catfish and white perch collected in 1992 as part of a limitedstudy had PCB concentrations which exceeded 2 mg/kg (Stearns and Wheler, 1993).

Fish collected from Onondaga Lake in 1980 had detectable levels of monochlorobenzene,dichlorobenzene and benzene at concentrations ranging from 0.2 to 0.8 mg/kg (reviewed in PTI,1991). 1,4-Dichlorobenzene, cadmium, lead, phthalates, hexachlorobenzene, chlorinateddibenzofurans, DDT and other contaminants were also detected in fish collected from OnondagaLake in 1992 (PTI, 1993b; Stearns and Wheler, 1993). Although not quantified,1-phenyl-1-(4-methylphenyl)-ethane and 1-phenyl-1-(2,4-dimethylphenyl)-ethane were alsodetected in fish (Hassett, 1994).

Mercury and PCBs will be evaluated further in this PHA. Due to the limited data about othercontaminants, including cadmium, chlorinated dibenzofurans, benzene, monochlorobenzene anddichlorobenzene found in fish collected from Onondaga Lake, they will not be considered forfurther evaluation in this PHA.

Shoreline Soil

The shoreline soil has been investigated for potential chemical contaminants; however, theprimary emphasis of these investigations has been on the industrial regions in the southeasternportion of the lake. Soda ash wastes (Solvay) have been deposited in several waste beds alongthe southwestern portion of the lake (Figure 3, Appendix A). These waste beds generally containinorganic salts such as calcium chloride, sodium chloride, calcium carbonate, calcium silicate,magnesium hydroxide and calcium hydroxide (Blasland and Bouck Engineers, 1990). The wastebeds are alkaline and surface water drainages from the waste beds have pHs that range from 7.5to 10.6. In addition, wastes containing tar, benzene, toluene, xylene and PAHs from a plant thatrefined coke light oil were deposited about 200 feet from the shoreline in the Semet residueponds (tar beds) that were built on top of a soda ash wastebed. Benzene, toluene, chlorobenzeneand dichlorobenzene have been detected in the soil between the tar beds and Onondaga Lake(Groundwater Technology, Inc., 1993). Odors from the tar beds have been detected by the NYSDOH personnel several miles from the site, including in several parts of the City of Syracuse. There is a large bulk petroleum storage/terminal facility, known as Oil City, on the shoreline. The presence of petroleum products in lake sediment suggests that there may be petroleumproducts contaminating the shoreline soil.

Data are not available for other portions of the shoreline. However, a 1973 report describes somesediment dredging operations in the outlet barge canal, the oil terminal area, and the delta nearthe mouth of Ninemile Creek (US EPA, 1973). The disposition of most of the dredgedsediments was not reported and is not currently known. The delta near the mouth of NinemileCreek was dredged in 1968 and the dredge spoils were disposed in a low area just north of thecreek which was being developed as a recreational park. These spoils have not been analyzed forpotential contaminants.


Potential contaminants in waterfowl present in the Onondaga Lake region have not beencharacterized. However, it is known that PCBs and mercury, which have been detected in fish inOnondaga Lake, can bioaccumulate in waterfowl.


There are no data from the lake pertaining to surface water releases of compounds. However,volatilization of contaminants from lake surface water, especially mercury, is a possibility. Odors from the tar beds vary and tend to be stronger in the warmer weather and have beendetected by local health officials two to three miles away. Therefore, depending on the winddirection, air quality at or near the lake can be affected by odors from the tar beds. Elevatedlevels of benzene have been detected by the NYS DEC, the NYS DOH and the OnondagaCounty Health Department in the region near the tar beds.

B. Off-site Contamination

Surface Water

Surface water exiting the lake at the northwest corner has not been characterized for potentialcontaminants but it is assumed to be similar to the surface water quality in the lake. The waterfrom Ley Creek has been analyzed and detectable concentrations of PCBs have been reported(O'Brien and Gere Engineers, Inc., 1993). The water from Ninemile Creek has been sampled andseveral contaminants including mercury were identified (CDR Environmental Specialists, 1991). The Metro plant has also been identified as a significant source of mercury entering the lake(Driscoll and Wang, 1994). Approximately 48% of the mercury currently entering the lake hasbeen attributed to Ninemile Creek, and 25% has been attributed to the Metro plant (Driscoll andWang, 1994).


Sediments in the Barge Canal in the northwest corner of the lake and further downstream (i.e.,Seneca River) have not been characterized for potential contaminants. As with the surface waterof the tributaries to the lake, there has been some characterization of the sediments in some of thetributaries. Mercury has been detected in the sediments of Ninemile Creek at concentrations thatare higher than background levels for NYS soils, and PCBs have been detected in Ley Creek(CDR Environmental Services, Inc., 1993; O'Brien and Gere Engineers, Inc., 1993).


Contaminant levels in fish from the Barge Canal at the northwest corner of the lake and furtherdownstream (i.e., Seneca River) have not been characterized. Studies of fish movement for fishinitially caught in Onondaga Lake have indicated that some fish leave the lake via the outlet andhave been found as far up the Seneca River as Baldwinsville (about six miles), and as far downriver as Fulton (about 16 miles).

In 1990, limited sampling of fish from Ninemile Creek and Geddes Brook found smallmouthbass with approximately 1.5 mg/kg mercury and other species of fish contained mercury at levelswhich ranged from 0.055 to 0.635 mg/kg (CDR Environmental Specialists, 1991). Some of thefish caught in Ley Creek have been reported to have greater than 2 mg/kg of PCBs (O'Brien andGere Engineers, Inc., 1993). In addition, dioxins and dibenzofurans have been detected in fishcaught in Ley Creek ( Estabrook, 1992).


As mentioned previously, odors from the tar beds can be detected at distances two to three milesaway. However, there is insufficient air sampling data and information to characterize possibleexposures. AlliedSignal, Inc. is conducting a RI/FS on the tar beds. AlliedSignal, Inc. signed anAdministrative Order on Consent (Dec. 15, 1994) agreeing to a temporary cover over tar bedponds nos. 3 and 4, as an interim measure.


Onondaga Lake is a local groundwater discharge point and contaminants from the lake would notbe expected to migrate to groundwater under non-pumping conditions (NYS DEC, 1989). During periods of flooding, local hydraulic gradients may be reversed and some water from thelake may discharge to groundwater as a short-term, temporary effect. The nearest homes to thelake served by groundwater wells are on Walters Road, about 1.5 miles from the lake boundary(NYS DEC, 1989). There are no other known private wells near the lake. Groundwater near thesouthwestern portion of the lake was analyzed for potential contaminants that may be transportedto the lake. Several volatile organic compounds (e.g., benzene, toluene, xylene, chlorobenzeneand dichlorobenzene) have been detected in the groundwater (PTI, 1993a). An interim remedialmeasure consisting of product recovery for a mixture of chlorobenzene and dichlorobenzenesolvents has been initiated by Groundwater Technology, Inc. on behalf of AlliedSignal, Inc.(Groundwater Technology, Inc., 1993). Petroleum storage facilities near the southern end of thelake may contribute to groundwater contamination by petroleum products which could also beaffecting the lake (Onondaga Lake Management Conference, 1993).


There are no data to characterize soils beyond the shoreline. As mentioned previously, lakesediments were dredged and it is unclear where the spoils were disposed.

C. Quality Assurance and Quality Control

In preparing this public health assessment, the NYS DOH relies on the information provided inthe referenced documents and assumes that adequate quality control measures were followedwith regard to chain-of-custody, laboratory procedures and data reporting. The validity of theanalyses and the conclusions drawn for this assessment are determined by the availability andreliability of the referenced material.

Some of the referenced reports did not have quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC)statements in their reports. However, it is assumed for the purposes of this public healthassessment that the data reviewed are of acceptable quality.

Several of the reports (e.g.,PTI, 1993a,b; Blasland and Bouck Engineers, 1990) have not beenevaluated or approved by the NYS DEC for accuracy, QA/QC, or completeness. The readershould be aware that references to these data are references to preliminary information only andthat inferences and conclusions based upon this draft data may be significantly revised followingthe NYS DEC review of the data.

D. Physical and Other Hazards

Physical and other hazards are associated with the lake and shoreline. The lake water has highturbidity, causing poor water clarity. Drowning is one hazard associated with recreational use ofthe lake. Parts of the southern shoreline, near Ninemile Creek, are steep and rocky and access tothe lake along these areas is difficult and potentially hazardous. The soft and unstable inshorebottom substrate (e.g., oncolites) created by past industrial waste discharges also presents aphysical hazard, particularly if swimming becomes a future lake use. The industrial andcommercial sites including the tar beds and some waste beds along the shoreline have not beenevaluated for physical and other hazards as part of this PHA.

E. Toxic Chemical Release Inventory (TRI)

To identify other facilities that could possibly contribute to site-related contaminants in soil, air,groundwater, and/or surface water at or near the Onondaga Lake site, or create health threatsunrelated to the site, the NYS DOH searched the Toxic Chemical Release Inventory (TRI). TheTRI has been developed by the US EPA from chemical release information provided by thoseindustries that are required to report contaminant emissions and releases on an annual basis. TheNYS DOH reviewed TRI data submitted by industrial facilities identified to be within a 2.5 mileradius of the perimeter of Onondaga Lake for the years 1988 through 1992 as a means to evaluateother sources of additional health risk in the exposed population.

The NYS DOH uses a simple mathematical model to estimate if potential contaminantconcentrations resulting from air emissions at a facility may be contributing to community(receptor population) exposures to contaminants at a site. This model uses information about thefacility location (distance from the exposed population) and annual air emission data to calculatethe radial distance from the facility at which contaminant concentrations in ambient air are belowscreening criteria. For most contaminants the NYS DOH then evaluates what portion, if any, ofthe population living within this distance from the manufacturing facility may also be exposed tocontaminants originating at the site.

Presently, there are 28 industrial facilities within about a 2.5 mile radius of Onondaga Lake (referto Figures 4 and 5, Appendix A). Additionally, H.P. Hood, Inc. and the Cambridge FilterCorporation were also considered in this evaluation, since the facilities are situated near the 2.5mile radius from Onondaga Lake. Those facilities which filed TRI data for 1992 include theSyracuse Heating Corporation; Crucible, Inc. (Specialty Division); Chemtech Industries, Inc.;Pass & Seymour; General Chemical Corporation; Church and Dwight Company, Inc.; MarcellusCasket Company; Caldwell & Ward Brass Company; Boorum & Pease, Inc.; AnoplateCorporation; Benbow Chemical Packaging, Inc; Syracuse China Corporation; Crouse-HindsCompany (Wolf Street Plant); Meloon Foundries, Inc.; B.G. Sulzle, Inc.; Martin Marietta-General Electric Company; Strathmore Products, Inc. (Plant #2); Syrtek, Inc. (formerly PicoProducts, Inc.); Deluxe Check Printers; and H.P. Hood. Summaries of the TRI-reported releasesto air, surface water and publicly owned treatment works by these facilities for the year 1992 arepresented in Tables 5 and 6 (Appendix B), respectively. Eight facilities did not file TRI data for1992. These include LCP Chemicals; Frazer & Jones Company; Lipe-Rollaway Company;Fastek; Strathmore Products, Inc. (Syracuse); R.E. Deitz Company; the GE Company (FarrelRoad Plant); and the Cambridge Filter Corporation. For those facilities that filed TRI data in1992, the 1992 data appeared to adequately represent releases from previous years (i.e.,1988-1991). For those facilities which did not file TRI data in 1992, data from previous yearswere evaluated.
Church and Dwight Inc. is a potentially significant source of ammonia in the lake. In 1988,LCP-Chemicals discharged mercury into surface water (110 lbs.) and publicly owned treatmentworks (9 lbs.). In 1989 and 1990 no mercury releases were reported from LCP-Chemicals. Inaddition, Crucible Inc. discharged manganese, nickel, chromium and copper into surface waterthat enters the lake. The levels of mercury, manganese, nickel, chromium and copper in thesediments exceed typical background concentrations for soils. The discharges fromLCP-Chemical and Crucible Inc. may have contributed to the concentrations found in lakesediment. None of the other compounds released to surface water from TRI facilities between1988 and 1992 had concentrations in lake sediment or lake water which exceeded comparisonvalues.

Results of the screening evaluation indicate that TRI-reported air emissions from the facilitiesidentified would not increase contaminant levels in ambient air near the Onondaga Lake site tolevels above the screening criteria of 0.1 micrograms per cubic meter (mcg/m3) for chromium,0.02 mcg/m3 for nickel, 0.4 mcg/m3 for manganese, or 1 mcg/m3 for other compounds. Based onthe results of the screening evaluation, the public health significance of contaminant airemissions and water discharges from TRI facilities as additional sources of community exposuresat the Onondaga Lake site will not be evaluated further in this public health assessment.


This section of the public health assessment (PHA) identifies potential and completedexposurepathways associated with past, present and future use of the site. An exposure pathwayis the process by which an individual may be exposed to contaminants originating from a site. An exposure pathway is comprised of five elements, including: (1) a contaminant source; (2) environmental media and transport mechanisms; (3) a point of exposure; (4) a route of exposure;and (5) a receptor population.

The source of contamination is the source of contaminant release to the environment (any wastedisposal area or point of discharge); if the original source is unknown, it is the environmentalmedia (soil, air, biota, water) which are contaminated at the point of exposure. Environmentalmedia and transport mechanisms "carry" contaminants from the source to points where humanexposure may occur. The exposure point is a location where actual or potential human contactwith a contaminated medium may occur. The route of exposure is the manner in which acontaminant actually enters or contacts the body (i.e., ingestion, inhalation, dermal absorption). The receptor population is the person or people who are exposed or may be exposed tocontaminants at a point of exposure.

Two types of exposure pathways are evaluated in the PHA; a completed exposure pathway existswhen the criteria for all five elements of an exposure pathway are documented; a potentialexposure pathway exists when the criteria for any one of the five elements comprising anexposure pathway is not met. A suspected exposure pathway is considered to be eliminatedwhen any one of the five elements comprising an exposure pathway has not existed in the past,does not exist in the present and will never exist in the future. Because the primary routes ofexposure to site-related contaminants are due to recreational activities at the lake, it is difficult toestimate the number of persons actually exposed. However, ATSDR and NYS DOH estimatethat 216,682 persons are potentially exposed to site-related contaminants. This estimate, basedon the 1990 census, is the total populations of the Towns of Salina and Geddes and the City ofSyracuse bordering Onondaga Lake.

A. Completed Exposure Pathways

Fish - Onondaga Lake Pathway

Data from as early as 1970 have shown that many species of fish from Onondaga Lake containmercury and other contaminants. Prior to closing the lake to public fishing in 1970, people didfish in the lake and it is assumed that some fish were eaten. Prior to 1970, fish in OnondagaLake most likely contained mercury and possibly other contaminants. In 1986, the fishing banwas dropped and the NYS DOH issued and has maintained a public health advisory not to eatfish from Onondaga Lake (refer to Appendix C). These actions are believed to have significantlyreduced the amount of fish from Onondaga Lake which are eaten, although it is likely that somefish are still eaten.

Surface Water Pathway

Although swimming in the lake has been discouraged for quite some time and there are nopermitted bathing beaches, the lake is used for recreational and commercial boating. Exposure tocontaminants in lake water can occur via water skiing, wind-surfing, spray, handling fish,splashes from oars and paddles, capsizes, wading, etc. Reportedly, swimming has occurred inthe lake. Prior to 1920, swimming routinely occurred in the lake, and people were most likelyexposed to chemical and bacteriological contamination. However, water quality and sedimentcontamination at that time were not characterized and the public health implications of pastexposures from swimming in the lake prior to 1920 can not be evaluated.

B. Potential Exposure Pathways

Shoreline Pathway

A great deal of the shoreline, including soil, along Onondaga Lake is accessible to the publicwho could be exposed to contaminants by dermal contact, inhalation and ingestion. Soils alongthe shoreline have not been analyzed for chemical contaminants, and this is a data gap whichprevents evaluation of possible past, present and future human exposure pathways tocontaminants in soil. Reports of dredging spoils being used as fill just north of Ninemile Creeksuggests that parts of the shoreline may be contaminated. Some of the waste beds in the southernportion of the lake are basic (i.e., alkaline) and are accessible to the public. The tar beds are in anindustrial area and are fenced and posted. Therefore, they are not readily accessible to the public.

Sediments Pathway

Onondaga Lake sediments that contain elevated levels of PAHs were mostly localized in areas atthe southeastern portion of the lake. This portion of the lake shoreline has not been developedfor public beaches, swimming, or wading. Thus, potential exposure to PAHs in sediment isconsidered to be minimal at present. Persons could be exposed to PAHs in sediments if thesediments are dredged and placed in an area where they may be available for human contact, or ifswimming in the lake occurs in the future. Therefore, a future potential human exposurepathway exists to PAHs in sediments of Onondaga Lake.

Fish Beyond the Northwest Outlet of the Lake and in the Tributaries

Water leaves the lake at the Northwest corner (Figure 1, Appendix A), and reportedly fishingoccurs in this area. Fish in this region have not been well characterized for potential chemicalcontaminants and there is some evidence that fish originally caught in Onondaga Lake havemigrated to the outlet and beyond. This is a data gap that prevents evaluation of possible past,present, and future exposure pathways through ingestion of fish beyond the lake boundary. Limited sampling of fish from tributaries to Onondaga Lake is inadequate to characterizepossible past, present and future exposures through ingestion of fish from the tributaries.


Ambient air quality at and near the lake and shoreline has not been well characterized. The tarbeds tend to affect the air quality in the region and depending on the prevailing winds mayimpact air near the lake. In addition, odors from the tar beds can be detected two to three milesaway, including within the City of Syracuse. Since the air quality near the lake has not beencharacterized, this is a data gap that prevents the evaluation of possible past, present, and futureexposure pathways to contaminants from the tar beds through inhalation.

Waterfowl Pathway

Hunting of waterfowl at and near Onondaga Lake has been reported to occur and it is assumedthat waterfowl are eaten. Some of the waterfowl in the region are migratory. The accumulationof contaminants from the lake in waterfowl is unknown, and this presents a data gap thatprevents the evaluation of possible past, present, and future human exposure to lakecontaminants through ingestion of waterfowl.

C. Eliminated Exposure Pathways


The lake is a local groundwater discharge point and groundwater flows into the lake. Groundwater flow conditions could be temporarily reversed during flood conditions. However,the effects of flooding are not expected to result in significant flow reversals. Commercial,industrial and other properties closer to the lake are served by public water. The nearest homesusing groundwater for drinking are more than one mile away. The potential for exposure tocontaminants in groundwater is not expected to occur and this human exposure pathway isconsidered to be eliminated and will not be evaluated further in this PHA.


A. Toxicological Evaluation

An analysis of the toxicological implications of the completed and potential human exposurepathways of concern is presented below. To evaluate the potential health risks fromcontaminants of concern associated with the Onondaga Lake site, the NYS DOH assessed thepotential risks for cancer and noncancer health effects. The potential health risks are related tocontaminant concentration, exposure pathway, exposure frequency and duration. For additionalinformation on how the NYS DOH determined and qualified potential health risks applicable tothis site, see Appendix D.

  1. Ingestion of fish.

    Since the 1970's, fish in Onondaga Lake have been found to be contaminated with mercuryand PCBs. Chlorinated benzenes and cadmium have also been observed at moderateconcentrations on various occasions. Prior to 1970, there was no ban on fishing, and fishwere presumably caught and eaten. Between 1970 and 1986, fishing was banned, and thismost likely had a significant effect in reducing consumption of contaminated fish. Since1986, fishing has been permitted. However, the NYS DOH has maintained an advisory toeat no fish caught in the lake and its tributaries, to the first barrier impassable to fish(Appendix C). The amount of fish that might still be consumed is not known; however, theNYS DEC reports that fishing pressure is light. Fish in Onondaga Lake have beencontaminated for an undetermined period of time and with a variable degree ofcontamination. Exposure will vary depending on species, number, size, and method ofpreparing and cooking the fish.

    In the environment, natural biological processes convert mercury into methylmercury. Most mercury accumulated in fish tissues is methylmercury. This form is one of the mosttoxic forms of mercury and is readily absorbed by the intestine in man. In the human body,mercury accumulates in the liver, kidney, brain, and blood and can cause both acute andchronic health effects (ATSDR, 1992). Symptoms of chronic mercury poisoning includeloss of appetite, weight loss, birth defects, and central nervous system and kidney damage. Consumption of fish containing relatively high levels of methylmercury has beenassociated with the widespread poisoning of fishermen and their families in Minamata,Japan. Other poisonings associated with the consumption of methylmercury-contaminatedfish and grain have provided substantial data regarding the level of methylmercuryconsumption associated with adverse health effects. Pregnant women who eat a mealcontaining one-half pound of fish caught in Onondaga Lake containing approximately 1mg/kg mercury exceeds the ATSDR's acute minimal risk level for developmental effectson the unborn child. The risk of adverse health effects to an unborn child by a pregnantwoman eating mercury-contaminated fish from Onondaga Lake is high. These healtheffects could include brain damage, behavioral and developmental effects. The risk ofadverse health effects to other people who eat one half-pound meal per week of fish fromOnondaga Lake is low.

    PCBs cause cancer in laboratory animals exposed to high levels over their lifetimes(ATSDR, 1991a). Whether PCBs cause cancer in humans is unknown. However,chemicals that cause cancer in laboratory animals may also increase the risk of cancer inhumans exposed to lower levels over long periods of time. Based on the results of animalstudies, the estimated increased risk of developing cancer from consuming one-half poundper week of fish from Onondaga Lake containing PCB contamination at 0.8 to 1.5 mg/kg ishigh. However, the existing information suggests that very few people, if any, are eatingthe fish.

    Human health effects reported after occupational exposure to PCBs include skin, eye, andrespiratory tract irritation and, less frequently, effects on the liver and the nervous anddigestive systems (ATSDR, 1991a). Maternal exposure to PCBs may producedevelopmental effects on the unborn child. A New York State Health Department study ofwomen exposed to PCBs in their workplace found evidence of a link between PCBexposure and lower birthweight children. There may be a link between a mother'sincreased exposure to PCBs and slight effects on her child's birthweight and behavior(ATSDR, 1991a; Rogan and Gladen, 1991, 1992). Recent evidence suggests that somebehavioral anomalies and low birthweights occurred in infants whose mothers had arelatively high exposure to PCBs and other contaminants from the consumption of GreatLakes sportfish for many years before pregnancy. Neurological effects were also noted insome of the same children when they were 5 years old. In a second study conducted inNorth Carolina, behavioral anomalies, but not low birthweights, were found in newborns ofwomen who had elevated blood PCB levels. Some of these same children showedneurological effects at 6, 12 and 24 months, but not at 3, 4 or 5 years of age. In bothstudies, the possibility that the women may have been exposed to other toxic chemicalswas not completely examined. The effects of PCBs in animals include low birthweight,skin disorders, liver problems and damage to the immune and nervous systems. Chemicalsthat cause adverse health effects in humans and/or animals following high level exposuremay also increase the risk of adverse health effects in humans exposed to lower levels overlong periods of time. Although the risks of non-carcinogenic adverse effects fromingestion of PCB-contaminated fish are not completely understood, the existing datasuggests that the increased risk of non-carcinogenic adverse health effects from eatingone-half pound of fish per week containing approximately 0.8 to 1.5 mg/kg of PCBsexceeds the ATSDR's chronic minimal risk level. The risk of adverse health effects fromeating one-half pound per week of PCB contaminated fish is high.

  2. Ingestion, dermal and inhalation exposure to surface water (recreational use).

    Exposure to lake water has been fairly restricted and only limited exposure duringrecreational activities is presumed to occur. The lake water is contaminated with fecalbacteria at levels which intermittently exceed the NYS DOH public bathing beachstandards. Fecal coliform bacteria is an indicator of potential contamination by otherbacteria and other organisms that can produce diseases such as gastrointestinal illness,hepatitis A, giardiasis, and shigellosis (i.e., dysentery). Recreational use of the lake,particularly swimming and wading activities poses a risk of serious adverse health effectswhen fecal coliform bacteria are elevated.

  3. Potential ingestion, dermal, and inhalation exposure to PAHs in sediments.

    The lake sediments are contaminated with PAHs. PAHs can produce immunosuppression,bone marrow depression, reproductive/developmental effects and skin disorders in animals. The risks of non-carcinogenic adverse effects from PAH contamination of sediment isestimated to be minimal when associated with recreational use of the lake. Some PAHshave been reported to produce gastric, lung and skin tumors in animals (ATSDR, 1993). Whether PAHs which cause cancer in animals cause cancer in humans is not known. However, chemicals that cause cancer in laboratory animals may also increase the risk ofcancer in humans exposed to lower levels over longer periods of time. Due to the limitedaccess to lake sediments, the estimated increased risk of developing cancer from exposureto lake sediments during recreational activities is very low.

    If the contaminated sediment is used as fill in residential or non-residential settings, theincreased risk of cancer could be high; the increased risk of non-cancer effects could bemoderate.

B. Health Outcome Data Evaluation

The NYS DOH evaluated cancer incidence in Clay, New York and concluded that for all cancersites (combined) there was not a significantly different number of cancer cases for males orfemales than would be expected in other upstate New York communities (NYS DOH, 1985). Only the number of kidney cancers showed a statistically significant excess in males. Of the fourkidney cancers observed, there were three different types. It was concluded by the investigatorsthat the different cell types have different epidemiologic characteristics and that it was unlikelythat they were associated with a common environmental cause.

The NYS DOH also evaluated the incidence of cancer in the Towns of VanBuren and Camillus(NYS DOH, 1990) in response to community health concerns about possible health affectsrelated to a nearby dumpsite. For all cancer sites combined, the total incidence of cancer for bothsexes in the study area was not significantly different from expected rates based on comparablecommunities.

The NYS DOH also has two other cancer incidence studies in progress in this area. For the firststudy, the study area is the Town of Geddes, which corresponds to census tract 128. This areaborders on Onondaga Lake to the southwest. The study is expected to be completed in early1996.

The second study in progress includes the Village of North Syracuse and parts of the Town ofClay and the Town of Cicero (census tracts 105, 106, 107, 108, 109, 110.01 and 110.02). Theclosest that this area comes to Onondaga Lake is about 1 1/2 miles from the lake. The study isexpected to be completed in late 1996 or early 1997.

C. Community Health Concerns Evaluation

This PHA has been prepared, in part, to address community health concerns about past exposuresto contaminants at and near Onondaga Lake and the risk of developing cancer. Past studies ofcancer occurrence in communities near Onondaga Lake by the NYS DOH have not shownstatistically significant findings that might be related to a common environmental cause.

Community health concerns about 1) recreational use of the lake, 2) fishing and use of theshoreline, 3) odors emanating from the tar beds, and 4) possible impacts of the Oil Citycontamination and rehabilitation effort related to the lake and shoreline have been discussedpreviously in this PHA.

Recreational use of the lake represents a potential health hazard largely because of the fecalbacteria contamination. Ingestion of fish caught in Onondaga Lake represents a health hazarddue to mercury and PCBs in the fish. The NYS DOH has issued an advisory recommending thatpeople eat no fish caught in Onondaga Lake or its tributaries to the first barrier impassable tofish. Appendix C of this PHA contains a copy of the complete health advisory for 1994/1995. Contamination of shoreline soils in the area known as Oil City and elsewhere along the Lake hasnot been adequately characterized to evaluate potential health hazards. This PHA includes arecommendation that additional investigations be conducted to determine the degree and extentof contamination of the lake shoreline. The NYS DOH will review additional data that isdeveloped for the Onondaga Lake site to evaluate the possible public health significanceassociated with use of the shoreline. The chemicals responsible for the tar bed odor have notbeen identified and an evaluation of possible related health implications has not been completedas part of this PHA. However, this PHA includes a recommendation that the chemicalscontributing to the odors from the tar bed be identified. The NYS DOH will review data that isdeveloped to evaluate the possible public health significance associated with odors from the tarbeds. Additionally, the NYS DOH and the NYS DEC are negotiating with Allied Chemical for atemporary cover over the tar bed to reduce the odors.

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