What's contaminating the Portland Harbor and how does EPA plan to clean it up?
By Brandon Kline, Energy Law Fellow
|The Portland Harbor Superfund Site in Portland, Oregon, is the result of more than a century of industrial use along the Willamette River. Credit: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 10 (Pacific Northwest).|
Early in its history, Portland's economy was fueled by its riparian location – adjacent to the largest river in the Pacific Northwest, the Columbia River, and its 187-mile long tributary, the Willamette River – which provided easy transportation access to the Pacific Ocean. This position created a dynamic shipping and supply hub, which led to more than a century of intense industrial use along the Portland Harbor, the first 12 miles of the Willamette River.
Following years of industrial use and urban development, the U.S. EPA added the Portland Harbor to its National Priority List (NPL) in December 2000, triggering the Comprehensive Environmental Remediation Cleanup, Liability Act (CERCLA, 42 U.S.C. §§9601-9675). CERCLA also creates a Trust Fund (or “Superfund”) to provide for emergency responses and long term cleanups, generally financed by potentially responsible parties, rather than Congressional appropriations. Portland Harbor is among more than 1,300 hazardous waste sites around the country, which in the EPA Administrator’s judgment, contains substances that may present “substantial danger” to the public health or welfare or the environment. See CERCLA §102. Only sites on the NPL may qualify for long-term remedial actions financed by the Superfund.
Superfund sites are areas where toxic chemicals have been suspected of being released into the environment, and the EPA has determined that an investigation of the type and severity of such releases is needed. The EPA also researches which party or parties may be responsible for the contamination (i.e., Potentially Responsible Parties). See CERCLA §107(a), creating liability framework for responsible parties. Thus, once EPA has named a contaminated property to the NPL, past, present and future property occupants face “strict liability” that is “joint and several” for cleaning up any hazardous substances posing a substantial danger to the public. Here, potentially responsible parties have voluntarily formed the Lower Willamette Group to work with EPA to remediate the Portland Harbor.
The Portland Harbor area under study and planning for the cleanup of contaminated river sediments is roughly 10 miles, extending from the Columbia Slough to the Broadway Bridge. Federal and state authorities have been developing a proposed cleanup plan, which is anticipated to be complete in spring 2016. According to the Portland Tribune, the EPA is hopeful it can approve the plan by December.
Why Does the Portland Harbor Need to Be Cleaned Up?
Studies show contaminants at Portland Harbor pose unacceptable risks to people, fish and wildlife. According to the EPA, water and sediments along Portland Harbor are contaminated with many hazardous substances, including heavy metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), dioxin and pesticides. These compounds have been found to be harmful to people and the environment. Because of the contamination, some types of fish found in Portland Harbor, such as bass, carp and catfish currently pose a health risk to those who eat them.
The EPA will draft a proposed plan that recommends a cleanup path for the harbor (expected later in 2016).
|The EPA is months away from reaching a final decision about how the Portland Harbor will be cleaned up.|
EPA Community Sessions Mark Key Milestone.
On February 23, the Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group reviewed community concerns and questions about the Feasibility Study. The EPA will also continue to hold community information sessions in advance of releasing its Portland Harbor Cleanup Plan this spring. During the community information session, the EPA will provide background on the Portland Harbor and discuss why the cleanup matters to the community. These sessions provide a valuable opportunity for the public to provide input. Because the Portland Harbor is a critical part of the regional ecosystem, all community members should be engaged.
Attend an upcoming EPA Community Meeting:
· Thursday, March 3, live webinar, Register now
Online information and discussion session: 7:00-8:00 pm
· Thursday, March 17, Gray’s Landing (Community Room), 0650 SW Lowell St., Portland (near Old Spaghetti Factory – southwest waterfront)
Open house: 6:30-7:00 pm; Information and discussion session: 7:00-8:30 pm
· Saturday, March 26, Oregon Museum of Science & Industry, 1945 SE Water Ave., Portland, featuring graphic facilitator Martha Bean
Open house: 11:30 am-12:00 pm; Information and discussion session: 12:00-1:30 pm