Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Natalie Rodrigues makes this connection here…

The article, “Honeywell’s cap to seal in Onondaga Lake toxins has broken loose three times”, was published by Syracuse.com on January 28, 2016. The topic of this article is related to WRE in the hydrology domain as it focuses on a natural water system and specifically addresses water quality. This article discusses the Onondaga Lake cleanup plan and how at least three of the caps implemented as part of this plan have failed in the past few years. The caps are made of a sand mixture and are meant to act as a barrier between the mercury deposits and the rest of the lake.  The failures occurred on steep sloped areas of the lakebed and spread the toxic sediments to previously uncontaminated portions of the lakebed as shown in figure 1. It is stated in the article that Honeywell already has plans to cover the newly contaminated portions of the lake and they have identified other areas that may fail in the future, though they are not sure why the caps collapsed in the first place. I was unable to find any information about the capping failures on the official Onondaga Lake Cleanup website, EPA website, NYSDEC website, or on Honeywell’s website, though the cap failures have been reported on several different news sites including an NPR affiliate. The Onondaga Lake Cleanup website reports that the cleanup is “progressing as expected” (U.S. EPA, 2014). The DEC also reports that the cleanup has been successful thus far in improving water quality and diversity of the lake (DEC, 2010). Most of the articles pertaining to the cap failures were published in late January, so it seems like the Onondaga Nation recently reached out to news sources to get the word out. I do believe these articles are accurate on the occurrence of the cap failures, but it is unclear how urgent this issue is since Honeywell, NYSDEC, and the Onondaga Nation may all hold biases that are affecting how they are relaying information. Missing information includes how Honeywell and the DEC determined the right steps to fix the problem and why they withheld information from the Onondaga Nation for so long.

In the WRE broader context, this article covers the impacts of this hydrology issue on environmental, economic, and societal areas. The environmental context refers to the impacts of WRE issues on the health stability of the environment, the economic context refers to the costs associated with these issues, and the societal context refers to the impacts these issues have on communities and society as a whole. The effects of the cap failures on the environment and whether or not the re-capping of contaminated sediments will be successful is unknown. This situation shows how often times there is a tradeoff between cost and the quality or effectiveness of a solution. The article talks about how the Onondaga Nation was not satisfied with Honeywell’s cleanup plan from the start since they believed it would not be adequate to clean up the lake and that it would just cover up the problem instead of fix it (Onondaga Nation, 2014). A more thorough cleanup would cost more money, but less thorough cleanup may leave people distrustful of the safety of the lake and loss of trust and respect from Onondaga Nation. It also seems like Honeywell and the DEC were reluctant to disclose the information on the failures, even though they have an agreement to update the Onondaga Nation every month which brings up some moral issues.




Figure 1. Graphic showing the two of the cap failure locations and the region where the toxic sediments spread to. The red outline is where the cap failed, the red shaded area is where the contaminated sediments have spread.





Coin, G. (2016, January 28). Honeywell’s cap to seal in Onondaga Lake toxins has broken loose three times. Retrieved March 03, 2016, from http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2016/01/honeywells_cap_to_seal_in_onondaga_lake_toxins_has_broken_loose_three_times.html#incart_article_small


Department of Environmental Conservation. (2010). Onondaga Lake Superfund Site. Retrieved March 03, 2016, from http://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/8668.html


Onondaga Nation. (2014). The Onondaga Lake “Cleanup” Plan. Retrieved March 03, 2016, from http://www.onondaganation.org/land-rights/the-onondaga-lake-cleanup-plan/


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Report: Onondaga Lake Cleanup Is “Progressing as Expected” (2015, October 14). Retrieved March 03, 2016, from http://www.lakecleanup.com/u-s-environmental-protection-agency-report-onondaga-lake-cleanup-is-progressing-as-expected/