Central Ny Hospitals Agree To Cleanup On Native Land

Attorney General Spitzer, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Erin M. Crotty and Onondaga Nation Chief Irving Powless Jr. today announced an agreement with two Syracuse-area hospitals to clean up an abandoned medical waste dump on Onondaga Nation Territory.

"This agreement will eliminate a long-standing environmental threat on the Onondaga Nation Territory," said Attorney General Spitzer. "The agreement is a tribute to the cooperative effort between the state, the Onondaga Nation, and the involved hospitals to solve a lingering environmental problem."

DEC Commissioner Crotty said: "The cleanup of medical wastes from this abandoned dump site will protect Onondaga Creek from potential contamination and safeguard public health. Under Governor George Pataki's leadership, we will continue to work with Attorney General Spitzer to ensure that laws protecting the environment and public health are enforced."

Onondaga Chief Irving Powless Jr., said: "Everyone needs to understand that our territory is not a place where they can just dump materials that are difficult to dispose of. We will continue to work to track down anyone who dumps illegally on our territory and hold them responsible. We are pleased with the cooperation by all parties which has resulted in this negotiated solution to this old problem."

In the late 1960's, a contractor hired by the Community General Hospital of Greater Syracuse, Inc. and Van Duyn Home and Hospital, Inc., also of Syracuse, trucked 4,000 cubic yards of waste - - equal to 400 dump truck loads -- to a remote area of the Onondaga Nation Territory in Onondaga County. The contractor paid an Onondaga tribal member, who had no authority over the land, to gain access to a narrow wooded site between two streams that are tributaries to the Onondaga Creek. The dumping occurred without the knowledge or consent of either the Onondaga Nation or the hospitals. The contractor, Fred L. Mathieson of Marcellus, is no longer in business.

The unfenced site had no environmental protections and erosion has been causing the uncovered mounds of waste to enter a nearby stream and the Onondaga Creek, including an area used for swimming by Onondaga tribal members.

Today's agreement, detailed in a consent decree filed in the U.S. District Court in Syracuse, requires the prompt and complete removal of all waste from the site and the disposal of the waste in a state-approved solid waste landfill. The hospitals will pay all costs associated with transportation and disposal of the waste. Cleanup at the site will begin this fall.

While the Onondaga Nation had no role in the illegal dumping and brought the problem to the attention of government regulators years ago, they have offered to construct a road to the site and provide equipment and personnel to excavate the dump.

The agreement was signed Friday in Albany by U.S. District Judge David N. Hurd.

The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Christopher Amato, Environmental Scientist Alan Belensz and Investigator Shawn Thurston, all of the Attorney General's Environmental Protection Bureau.