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Broken Pipe Dumps 10 Million Gallons of Raw Sewage Into Sacred Onondaga Lake

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Up to 10 million gallons of raw sewage spilled into Onondaga Lake after a 50-year-old pipe burst during 21 hours of straight rain in Syracuse, New York on October 21. The 42-inch diameter pipe broke south of the Inner Harbor along the Onondaga Lake shoreline.

For more than 24 hours, 5,000 gallons of raw sewage flowed into the sacred lake per minute, according to a report that Onondaga County filed with the New York State Department of Conservation.

“Diluted raw sewage that had coarse screening removal” is how the spill was described in a press release.

A bypass system was put in place so that repairs could be made last weekend, when flow through the pipe would be at a lower level. A disinfectant drip was also being used, though the county’s release stated, “No health or environmental impacts have been identified.”

Complicating matters was that the pipe broke near railroad tracks owned by CSX Corporation. This will require coordinating with CSX in order to ensure a safe and effective fix.

The spill raised the specter of more pipe breaks, given the aging infrastructure.

“Certainly we try to make sure all the assets that we have, whether it’s adjoining the lake or any other water body or any residential area, we have a keen concern for the environment,” said Tom Rhoads Commissioner of the Department of Water Environment Protection for Onondaga County, to Indian Country Today when asked about the danger of further leaks. “We share the same concerns for the lake that we are all working on restoring. These are unfortunate conditions that happen with aging infrastructure.”

Beyond fixing the leak, there is no plan for a cleanup of Onondaga Lake from this spill. Onondaga County officials have warned people not to fish in that area of the lake or have any contact with the water in the affected area.

Onondaga Lake, is already a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund site, under a partial cleanup for years after decades of industrial pollution was pumped into it. Honeywell Corp. is heading up the cleanup efforts, but with plans that the Onondaga Nation says are inadequate and don’t go far enough.

RELATED: Lake Cleanup Fail: Onondaga Deride Flawed Plan, Demand Dredging

“It’s another concern about the conditions of the water,” said Tadodaho Sidney Hill of the Onondaga Nation. “This brings up all those issues all over, this brings up our concerns with pipelines because they do break. It brings up all the issues about water with the pipelines and all the stuff going on in North Dakota. We have these spills and breaks that go into the water.”

Hill also was concerned about the infrastructure in the area.

“It’s hard to protect from these things happening,” Hill said. “In our area here the mayor was adamant about infrastructure, that was her big concern, and she didn’t seem to get much backing on that. You have to have your infrastructure or else you have health concerns and safety concerns.”