Camillus residents sue Honeywell to stop dumping Onondaga Lake waste

Onondaga Lake dredging

A group of about 52 Camillus residents is suing Honeywell International Inc.over the dumping of contaminated sludge dredged from Onondaga Lake in their community.

The residents of Camillus are demanding an immediate prohibition on dumping of waste from the dredging at a Camillus treatment site. The group of about 30 households is called the Camillus Clean Air Coalition. They filed a lawsuit Monday in state Supreme Court in Syracuse.

Lynda and Mike Wade are among the plaintiffs. They moved to the neighborhood in the summer of 2011 to raise their three young boys. It was on the first day of school that they smelled a problem.

"This is chemicals that burn you. You can't breathe. You have to get inside. It's horrible," says Wade.

The Wades don't smell all of the chemicals released. In fact, probably the most harmful chemical is a known carcinogen called benzene, which has a very high odor threshold.

The lawsuit says residents have developed nosebleeds, coughs and headaches from chemical fumes from the treatment site. It says the air monitoring techniques are insufficient and demands a state-of-the-art air monitoring system be put in place.

Honeywell and the state Department of Environmental Conservation say no imminent health threats have emerged in Camillus.

Honeywell released a statement saying the company follows a Community Health and Safety Plan approved by the DEC, the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department of Health.

The DEC released this statement to CNYCentral: "DEC has not seen the complaint and therefore cannot comment on its merits. Nevertheless, we are confident that data from the sophisticated air monitoring system designed to protect the community has demonstrated that the project is safe and protective. The monitoring data shows the project is in compliance with air standards."

The Wades say filing a lawsuit was their last resort. They reached out to local, state, and federal politicans and received no response. They also spoke several times with representatives from Honeywell and the DEC.

"You think a government agency overseing the project would protect the people, but we didn't get that from them," says Wade.

Residents are also seeking "monetary damages against Honeywell for the health risks and interference with their right to the quiet enjoyment of their homes and property that they have already suffered," according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims that, "according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, no corporation has been linked to a greater number of Superfund toxic waste sites than that has Honeywell."

One resident in Warners, who grew up in Camillus, began suffering experiencing nose bleeds, which she had never experienced before the dredging, according to the lawsuit. Other residents report headaches, coughs, eye irritation, shortness of breath, dizziness, throat irritation, body aches, nausea, and itchy skin.

Honeywell began dredging Onondaga Lake in July 2012 and was forced to stop just weeks later when residents complained of an odor. Dredging started again after Honeywell added filters and equipment covers at a treatment site.

The dredging does not take place during the winter months. It shut down in November and is scheduled to restart this spring. A mix of water and sediment is piped four miles from the lake to Camillus.

Onondaga Lake was once considered one of the most polluted bodies of water in the country. The cleanup project is the biggest lake dredging project for environmental remediation in the history of the state.

The $451 million project is expected to take four years, lasting though 2016.

(Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.)