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Environmental group seeks to ban salt mining under Cayuga Lake


LANSING — Cayuga Lake is the source of drinking water for Seneca Falls, Union Springs, Aurora and Ithaca.

Cargill Inc. is a Minnesota-based company that mines salt from under the bottom of the lake, as well as onshore, at the south end.

The environmental group Toxic Targetings of Ithaca has accused Cargill and the state Department of Environmental Conservation of allowing a mine malfunction to discharge dangerous chemicals, including sodium ferrocyanide, into the lake.

Walter Hang, president of Toxics Targeting, has begun a campaign to have people sign a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to:

• Rescind Cargill’s permits for general mining and shaft 4 construction granted by the DEC.

• Require Cargill to phase out its existing salt mine under Cayuga Lake and begin mining salt only under dry land in a new mine.

The Cayuga Lake mine is about a half-mile underneath the southern lake bed. It covers approximately 13,000 acres

"We have documented that unpermitted discharge of sodium ferrocyanide into Cayuga Lake was discovered Feb. 7, 2019," Hang reported. "As a result, cyanide was reportedly released into the drinking water source for more than 30,000 local residents. The public was never informed of this public health threat until Toxics Targeting broke the story. According to Cargill’s own report, the source of this contamination still has not be comprehensively cleaned up in strict compliance with all applicable New York regulatory requirements."

"Even more shocking is our documentation of multiple unpermitted discharges of cyanide, unknown petroleum, diesel and chlorides from the Cargill salt mine dating back more than 40 years."

Hang said Cargill was issued a notice of violation of its State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.

"For all of these reasons, our campaign now has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to require Gov. Cuomo to phase out Cargill’s existing salt mine under Cayuga Lake in order to start a new salt mine beneath nearby dry land," Hang said. "Cargill could be allowed to continue to mine salt under an expired general mining permit while preparing for the construction of a new mine under nearby dry land. We want to make sure the governor requires Cargill to rescind the general mining and shaft construction permits recently granted by the DEC."

A Cargill spokesman noted the company has been a part of the Lansing and Ithaca community for nearly 50 years, and many of its employees live on or near the lake.

"The health of the lake and surrounding areas is vitally important to us," the company said. "During a routine inspection, in February 2019, we identified a pipe carrying yellow prussate of soda, a common salt anti-caking additive, was leaking. We immediately repaired and tested the pipe before returning it to service later in the day. In contact with the DEC, we took numerous actions to ensure the spill was properly cleaned up and regularly monitored the area to make sure there were no additional failures."