Cap It

In the early 1900s, Onondaga Lake had a lot to offer. There was entertainment, like rowing, canoeing, strolling, swimming, fishing, and even amusement rides. Now some call it “The Most Polluted Lake in America”. Detrimental chemical dumping took place in Onondaga Lake from the 1920s to the 1990’s primarily by a company called Allied Chemical, later renamed Honeywell.

The glass dome from The Simpsons Movie. Photo from Bustle.

Starting in 2000, Honeywell began a study and clean up of the lake to reverse its 70 years worth of contamination. Now, the environmental harm caused earlier in the lake’s history has been somewhat undone with a simple method. A quite literal version of this method appears in The Simpson’s Movie, but the actual process is what environmental engineers call “capping”.

In Syracuse, parts of the bottom of the lake have been covered with sand and clay caps. The purpose of this method is to bury the mercury that exists in the most contaminated parts and let it degrade over time. Unfortunately, recent studies showed that the caps had slipped downhill and soil that had been further down in the lake bed was exposed. Now the toxicity in parts of the lake is worse than in previous years. The main issue was that the caps had structural failures.  Overall, this is a simple natural decontamination method that won’t harm the environment. The catch is that when done wrong there can be some large environmental effects. Testing cap strength prior to insertion to see how much weight the cap can handle would be the ideal way to prevent failure. If you are a local Syracusian like myself feel free to read up on this! Here are some good links: Lake Cleanup  or Onondaga Lake Fact Sheet.

Historical image of Onondaga Lake from

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