Onondaga Lake in Syracuse, N.Y., has often been called the most polluted lake in America. It was hammered by a one-two punch: raw and partially treated sewage from the city and its suburbs, and a century’s worth of industrial dumping. But now the final stage in a $1 billion cleanup is about to begin.
Standing in his office amid stacks of reports, scientist Steve Effler glances at an old front-page headline of the Syracuse Herald-Journal: “Divers find goo in Onondaga Lake.”
Goo was just part of the lake’s problem. Effler, who created the Upstate Freshwater Institute, knows more about the 4.5-square-mile lake than anyone. But back in the 1950s, before he began studying the lake, he was a kid riding by in the backseat of his parents’ car.
“The lake [smelled] so bad [from the pollution] that you had to roll the windows up,” he recalls.