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Grads’ Projects Praised
Topics include anglers’ attitudes, contaminated steel plant site

By Tracy Kinne

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It turns out that fishermen along Lake Ontario in Pulaski, just 40 miles north of Syracuse, aren’t that different from their counterparts on Lake Fosu Lagoon in Ghana.

Neither seem concerned about eating fish from the polluted water,  Sarah Darkwa found out.

Darkwa, who studied fishermen in her native Ghana before coming to Syracuse, graduated from ESF in May with a doctorate in environmental science. Her research focused on the attitudes of fishermen living in and visiting Pulaski, Oswego and Mexico, communities in Oswego County

“They were not really worried about the contamination,” she said. “They had been eating the fish.” Local fishermen, as well as visiting anglers from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, told her they weren’t worried by state Department of Environmental  Conservation guidelines.

They hadn’t seen health problems in anyone who had eaten the fish, and they considered the waters cleaner than those in New Jersey or many other places, Darkwa said.

She said the anglers told her, “The fish in China are more contaminated, but people eat them.”

Thanks largely to zebra mussels, an invasive species, Lake Ontario water is clearer now than it was a few years ago, Darkwa said. “They think that, over time, the lake has cleaned up,” she said of the fishermen. “It’s true in a way, but the chemicals may still be there.”

Along Lake  Fosu Lagoon,  a highly polluted body of water,  the question involves tradition, Darkwa said. Fishermen refuse to believe that the gods would give them fish from the lake that wasn’t safe to eat, she said.

Darkwa ultimately hopes to educate fishermen about the dangers of eating contaminated fish and plans to return to Ghana, perhaps bringing ESF professors along to share their research results with the local fishermen. She was among eight doctoral and 27 master’s degree candidates recognized at a continental breakfast in Marshall Hall’s Nifkin Lounge preceding commencement.

Other candidates chose fields of study involving climate change, crops for energy and the environmental effects of big-box stores. They worked with local and state agencies, as well as local residents.

“Your achievements aren’t just personal,” Bruce C. Bongarten,  ESF provost and vice president for academic affairs,  told the assembled graduates. “Many of you have made designs and discoveries that have made the world a better place.”

Nick Onody, of Toronto, Canada, who received a master’s degree in landscape architecture, followed a friend’s suggestion when he began working with residents near the contaminated Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna, just outside Buffalo.

“It will take a long time – 30 to 50 years – for remediation,” he said. “It is a highly contaminated site, a lot of metal, a lot of sludge, a lot of ammonia, a lot of dirty material.”

But he wanted to involve community residents in making something new and good come from the site.  “It’s an alternative approach to remediation,” he said. “You allow community members to be involved in the creation of new uses.” Eventually, homes and a park could occupy the site, he said. Onody hopes to gain employment designing parks.          

He and the other candidates were joined by friends and family, some of whom had traveled from other continents, for the hour-long event Sunday. Families snapped photographs and shot videotape as the candidates stepped onstage. Their professors briefly described the candidates’  projects. Then the candidates gathered outside for the procession to the Carrier Dome and commencement  exercises.

Kinne is a freelance writer from Oswego County.

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