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Superfund Site

The Environmental Protection Agency released a letter July 2012 threatening to fine the Lower Willamette Group for using "incorrect or misleading information" in a report on the risk people face by eating contaminated Willamette River fish from the Willamette River Superfund Site.

Willamette Superfund

Portland Must Make Sure the Willamette River Cleanup is Done Right


*OFFICIAL COMMENT PERIOD COMING IN EARLY MAY
 

The Portland Harbor Superfund site is a highly contaminated stretch of the Willamette River that extends approximately 10 miles, starting near the confluence with the Columbia River and extending to the Fremont Bridge. Right now, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working to determine how the river will be restored to health and how much the parties who polluted the river will pay to clean up their mess. 

Healthy rivers are linked to a sustainable and robust economy and are a community right - one that residents of the city of Portland are being denied today. For the longterm health of Portlanders and our wild neighbors, we need to make sure this cleanup is done right. 

What is a Superfund Site?

According to the EPA: “EPA’s Superfund program is responsible for cleaning up some of the nation’s most contaminated land and responding to environmental emergencies, oil spills and natural disasters. To protect public health and the environment, the Superfund program focuses on making a visible and lasting difference in communities, ensuring that people can live and work in healthy, vibrant places.”


What does the section of river’s designation as a Superfund site mean?

  • The federal government has recognized this portion of the Willamette as one of the most polluted sites in the nation. 
  • The parties responsible for the river’s deplorable condition must now pay for it to be cleaned up.

What kind of pollutants are in the river?

There are a variety of pollutants in Portland Harbor, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals (cadium, lead, zinc), dioxins, furans, polycyclicaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), arsenic, DDT and mercury.

These contaminants harm people and wildlife in our community through: 

  1. Consumption of resident fish and shellfish taken from the Portland Harbor.
  2. Infant Consumption of breast milk from mothers who are exposed to contaminants.
  3. Bioaccumulation: Contaminated sediment is eaten by plankton, which are eaten by bottom-feeders, which are eaten by fish, which are eaten by humans, birds and mammals, thus harming all life forms within the food chain.

Who is responsible for paying for the cleanup?

  1. Entities who caused the contamination.
  2. Entities still causing contamination.
  3. Entities who currently own land contaminated by previous entities.

It has been estimated that the cleanup will cost anywhere from 200 million to 1.7 billion dollars. Over 100 companies as well as the city and the Port of Portland share the responsibility for the pollution and therefore the cost. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality are charged with overseeing the Superfund process on behalf of the public.

Updates

April 16, 2013: The Lower Willamette Group got hit with a $125,500 fine this week by the EPA for downplaying the risks of toxic contamination to people in the Portland Harbor Superfund Site. The group, which includes 14 Superfund Responsible Parties, produced a legally required "Human Health Risk Assessment" that the EPA determined was of "unacceptable quality." Learn more.

April 8, 2013: Some good news on Portland Harbor! The City and five Superfund property owners have agreed to move forward preliminary design work on River Mile 11 (located just south of the Fremont Bridge), which is one of the most contaminated stretches of the Superfund area. This will allow things to move quickly once the Superfund final record of decision is released in the next couple of years. Learn more.

Oct. 8, 2012: Audubon Comments on Superfund Natural Resource Damage Assessment DEIS.

July 2012: The Environmental Protection Agency released a letter July 2012 threatening to fine the Lower Willamette Group for using "incorrect or misleading information" in a report on the risk people face by eating contaminated Willamette River fish from the Willamette River Superfund Site. Read the letter.

July 27, 2012: Audubon Society of Portland conservation director Bob Sallinger and Willamette Riverkeeper executive director Travis Williams wrote a guest column in The Oregonian, "Willamette Superfund site cleanup would benefit all who love the river." Read the column.

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