In Search of a Breath of Fresh Air

I wrote this article in my head at 3:00 AM – I hope I can remember everything that I “wrote.” The August 2006 New York State Conservationist magazine has a big article on Onondaga Lake entitled “Return to Glory – The Resurgence of Onondaga Lake.” I have an affinity for Onondaga Lake, given that I grew up in Onondaga County. Onondaga Lake used to have resorts and amusements parks surrounding it – until the turn of the 20th century when Solvay Process came to town, and municipal sewage made its way into the lake. Fast forward to my time period. I didn’t live near Onondaga Lake, fortunately, but at the end of every August my parents would take us to the New York State Fair. Here’s an old postcard of the flowers in the Horticulture Building at the Fair:


To get there, we had to pass through the pollution of Solvay Process – it was rusty colored, very stinky and hung thick in the air. Here’s a photo of Solvay Process to give you an idea of the gross pollution – yuck-o!!


We would have to turn off the vent and close the windows, while we sat in traffic waiting to park (the State Fair grounds are right near where Solvay Process was). My Dad would have to wash the rust colored pollution off the car after our visit to the fair. Too bad we couldn’t wash our lungs out.

Fast forward to the present day. Solvay Process is no longer in town, but whenever I travel through this area, I can still smell that same smell of pollution from years ago. They say the lake is getting clean, but I wonder if the air will ever smell clean again.

So we probably think that we’ve improved the air pollution standards today, but I’m not convinced. I have a friend that worked at a plastics company for a couple of months last year. They make styrofoam products such as take-out containers, plates, etc. He worked the third-shift – 12 AM to 8 AM. At around 3 AM the company would pour out the most pollution of the day – with the excuse that people don’t realize it’s happening when it’s done in the middle of the night. I disagree with that! I sleep with my windows wide open year round, and it is around 3 AM every morning that I start getting bothered with bad pollution smells. My eyes, lips and lungs start burning. And I don’t live *near* any big industries.

To support that I’m not making this up, I had an acquaitance that made Maple Syrup, and he lived way out in the country in southern NY. He said when his Maple Syrup was tested it had an unbelievable amount of chemicals in it. I believe in organic farming and getting food / products as natural as possible, but I know that there are chemicals everywhere.

Personally, I don’t think we’ve come very far from the rust colored pollution I used to see when I was a kid – now the color may be taken out of the pollution – but the stink and the chemicals are still there, if not worse than ever. The only place I know of to get a somewhat good breath of fresh air is deep in the woods somewhere, but I know there are chemicals lurking there, too.


Speaking of being deep in the woods, the above is a photo I took while at Allegheny National Forest two years ago.

P.S. I’m not trying to be depressing, I guess that Onondaga Lake article got to me, and so did the pollution this morning, given that it is a very high pollen count day, and the pollution is just hanging in the air. And my Mom just called to say my Aunt with the colon cancer is not doing good at all – and cancer starts in the liver, and the liver has to deal with all of the chemicals we breath and eat. Everything today is pointing to the pollution in the air.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bob Hennigan
    Feb 13, 2007 @ 11:46:03

    Onondaga Lake is perhaps the most polluted body of water in the nation. The people here gave up on really cleaning up the lake years ago.
    Neither EPA nor DEC nor the courts, have made a serious attempt to restore the lake.
    There are three basic requirements: 1) divert the wastewater input to the Seneca River, and 2) Dredge the acumulated contaminints from the bottom of the Lake for controlled disposal elsewhere, 3) eliminate waste input from all tributary streams and from ground wateer flow. Part of this would be control and limit runoff and seepage from the 900 acres of waste beds that are located on the western lakeshore and upstream adjacent to Nine Mile Creek

    The Allied-Signal operation closed in 1984 and the regulatory agencies have yet to get the job done. They are a pathetic lot.

    Bob Hennigan, Professor Emeritus, SUNY ESF


  2. Pam
    Feb 13, 2007 @ 12:20:24

    Bob – thank you very much for your comment. They lead us to believe in the news that they are going to clean the lake. Unfortunately nobody ever seems to follow through with it. I don’t understand why there is such apathy towards it on the part of the EPA, DEC and courts. I would think cleaning it up would be a boon to Syracuse.


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