WASHINGTON: Columbia River Toxic Site Proposed for Superfund

Bradford Island

OLYMPIA, Washington, September 8, 2021 (ENS) – Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it wants to add Bradford Island at Bonneville Dam to the National Priorities List, known as the Superfund cleanup list.

From 1942 until 1982, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used Bradford Island as a landfill for discarded electrical equipment that leached toxins into the Columbia River. This resulted in high levels of toxic polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs, in resident fish that are the highest anywhere in the Pacific Northwest.

In fact, fish near the highly contaminated Columbia River site have some of the highest levels of PCBs in the country, although during the last cleanup activity at the site in 2007 the Army Corps of Engineers removed PCB-contaminated sediments from the river.

The most recent sampling, in 2011, of sediments, clams and smallmouth bass indicate that PCB concentrations are still too high to protect fish living nearby, and people who eat them. PCBs in smallmouth bass were found at concentrations as high as 183,140 parts per billion. A safe level for human consumption of fish is less than one part per billion.

Both the Oregon Health Authority and the Washington State Department of Health have “Do Not Eat” fish consumption advisories in effect for the area.

Laura Watson, director of the Washington State Department of Ecology, says an EPA Superfund listing would provide much needed resources to clean up this site that presents ongoing toxic exposure to people, plants, and animals.

“This is great news for protection of the Columbia River,” said Watson. “The Columbia is a cherished resource for the residents of Washington and Oregon, and the people of the Yakama Nation. We are hopeful that this highly contaminated site will finally get the resources it needs to ensure a cleaner river with healthier salmon.”

“A healthy Columbia River is essential for our people and the salmon that are central to our culture,” said Davis Washines, government relations liaison for Yakama Nation Fisheries.

“We are excited to be moving forward and work collaboratively with EPA and the Corps to ensure cleanup results in a sustainable river and healthy fish that are safe to eat,” Washines said.

The proposed listing comes after Ecology, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, and the Yakama Nation sent two jointly signed letters urging the EPA to add the site to the National Priorities List.

“A lot of hard work, planning, and collaboration happened to get us here today,” said Richard Whitman, director of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. “We look forward to our continued partnership with Ecology and the Yakama Nation to ensure this important resource is cleaned up.”

The next step in the Superfund process is for EPA to publish a public notice about the proposed listing in the Federal Register and issue a public notice so community members can comment on the proposal. If, after the comment period, the site still qualifies for cleanup under Superfund, it will be formally listed on the National Priorities List.

Featured image: Bradford Island Visitor Center, Bonneville Lock and Dam, Washington, October 22, 2017 (Photo by R.J. Cox)

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