The Cayuga Lake Defense Fund - A Citizen's Guide to Water Quality Hazards Posed by Cornell University's Lake Source Cooling Project

Chapter Four: Uncontrolled Releases from Toxic Sites

The improper storage, handling, transport, release and disposal of toxic chemicals and hazardous wastes can cause extensive, highly persistent water pollution problems. Toxic chemicals are often able to withstand natural degradation for long periods and can disperse over wide areas borne by wind and water.

Toxic chemicals can often accumulate in fish, wildlife and humans, resulting in cell mutations, birth defects, cancer and disease and death associated with acute and chronic toxicity effects.

For these reasons, the identification and remediation of toxic sites is the critically important responsibility of various state and federal Superfund and site remediation programs.

Proposed Heat Exchange Facility Site

The toxic site that may warrant the greatest environmental and public health concern is the site of the proposed Lake Source Cooling Heat Exchange Facility. According to analytical results generated by Cornell, monitoring of the site identified lead, cadmium and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons at a boring (BH-IA) reportedly drilled on the site near boring BH-119;

Lead 73 mg/kg (parts per million)
Cadmium 92 mg/kg (part per million)
benzo(a)anthracene .26 mg/kg (parts per million)
benzo(a)pyrene .22 mg/kg (parts per million)
benzo(a)fluoranthene .23 mg/kg (parts per million)
benzo(g,h,i)perylene .20 mg/kg (parts per million)
fluoranthene .33 mg/kg (parts per million)
phenanthrene .20 mg/kg (parts per million)
pyrene .34 mg/kg (parts per million)

Lead and cadmium are both highly toxic chemicals that can bioaccumulate in fish, wildlife and human fatty flesh. Both chemicals are elements that never break down. They can cause poisoning, neurological damage and cancer, even at low levels of exposure. Both chemicals are soluble in water and can also cause extensive air-borne hazards by adhering to dirt and dust particles.

Polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons are toxic and some of the members of this class of compounds can be potentially cancer-causing, notably benzo(a)pyrene. They also can bioaccumulate in fish, wildlife and human fatty flesh. Even though they exhibit low solubility in water, they can be dispersed by wind and water forces. As a result, they can cause extensive contamination hazards over time.

While it has not been reported how the site became contaminated or how much toxic chemical or hazardous waste may exist on the site, it is clear that the site is not designed, constructed or maintained to contain the toxic chemicals that have been reported on it. The property is an unpaved marina, boatyard and recreation site with dirt roads and a shoreline lacking sophisticated stormwater control systems that could collect or treat contaminated leachate discharges. As a result, the site is essentially an uncontrolled source of toxic chemicals to Cayuga Lake and the environment at large.

The release of toxic chemicals from the site could pose potential hazards to boaters, swimmers, windsurfers and workers. There are also residential homes and buildings in the vicinity of the site. Toxic chemicals released from the site could be ingested, absorbed through dermal contact, inhaled or consumed through contaminated fish and wildlife.

The site may have become contaminated as a result of its use by a former salt mine and coal-fired steam facility. As illustrated by Figures Eight and Nine, the Remington and Worcester Salt Companies operated on the site. Information contained on the historic Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for the site clearly indicates a coal fired boiler was operated. Improper storage of coal or land disposal of coal tar residues on the site could have been the source of the heavy metals and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons detected by Cornell. Other activities also could have contributed to the contamination identified on-site.

Cornell speculates that the source of the polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons may be related to the coal fuel used by the steam facility noted above. It should be pointed out, however, that the coal pile illustrated on the referenced historic map is a considerable distance from the point where the contaminants were identified by Cornell. A detailed investigation is clearly required to identify the full scope of the contamination on the site as well as how it might have been caused.

Selected Additional Toxic Sites Within the Immediate Vicinity of Southern Cayuga Lake

Water quality in southern Cayuga Lake is threatened by uncontrolled releases from numerous toxic sites in addition to the proposed Heat Exchange Facility, including petroleum spills associated with leaking underground storage tanks, abandoned landfills and other former utility sites. These sites ate generally not designed, constructed, maintained or permitted to hold their toxic contents securely. Many of the sites are located in close proximity to southern Cayuga Lake or its major tributaries.

These toxic sites pose known or potential environmental and public health hazards. They were identified by a search of the following toxic site categories compiled by local, state or federal government authorities:

National Priority List for Federal Superfund Remediation: a listing of sites known to pose serious environmental or public health hazards. These sites are being investigated and remediated pursuant to the Federal Superfund program;

New York State inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Site Registry: a listing of sites that may pose known or potential environmental or public health hazards requiring investigation or remediation pursuant to state, federal or private funding efforts;

New York State Hazardous Substance Waste Disposal Site: a listing of sites that may pose known or potential environmental or public health hazards requiring investigation or remediation, but typically do not quality for state-funded remediation programs;

Active New York State Petroleum and Hazardous Material Spills that reportedly do not meet clean up standards: stationary source spills reported to state environmental authorities, including leaking underground storage tanks.

The identified toxic sites are listed in Figure 10. For more details, see the printed version of the Guide.

Each identified site is profiled with publicly-available information in Appendix A of the printed verson of this Guide.

Former Utility Site

An example of the environmental contamination hazards posed by toxic sites is a former utility site located on the same site as the Ithaca Area Wastewater Treatment Plant. As illustrated by this site's Hazardous Substance Disposal Site profile, the property was reportedly utilized as a manufactured gas plant from 1927 to 1932.20 The site was reportedly sold to the City of Ithaca in the 1950's.

According to the information compiled by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the site is known to have caused environmental contamination involving coal tar, lead, cyanide, phenols and benzene. Contaminated groundwater is reportedly discharging into Cascadilla Creek, where contaminated sediments are reported. This creek runs adjacent to the site before discharging into Cayuga Inlet approximately 1,000 feet to the west. Cayuga Inlet feeds directly into Cayuga Lake.

The coal tar wastes at this site are persistent in the environment and are able to disperse widely when borne by wind and water. They also are toxic and some polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons can cause cancer in humans. Yet this site has only undergone a partial remediation since its problems were first identified more than ten years ago.

Contaminated dirt was recently removed from the site, but no effort has been made to remove contaminated groundwater on the site or chemical contaminants that may have seeped into Cascadilla Creek. As a result, pollutants that may have migrated from the site into the creek may continue to pose hazards to Cayuga Inlet and Cayuga Lake.

This site was reportedly owned and operated by New York State Electric and Gas, the same company that reportedly owned and operated a coal-fired power facility at the proposed site of the Heat Exchange Facility.

Please see the printed version of the Guide for much more detailed information.

Prepared by the Cayuga Lake Defense Fund (CLDF).
For more information, Call: 275-9054 or 272-7914 or email

CLDF 1998