On Oct. 10, 2019, DEQ, Washington State Department of Ecology and the Confederated Tribes of the Yakama Nation submitted a letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requesting that EPA place Bradford Island on the National Priorities List, more often known as Superfund. This was shared with DEQ staff broadly and covered by OPB. How did we get to this step and what’s next?
Bradford Island sits in the main stem of the Columbia River where the water surges through the Bonneville Dam. The east end of the island was used as a landfill for disposal of various wastes for decades. The Army Corps of Engineer’s disposal of hydroelectric equipment containing PCBs has created serious contamination on the island, in the water and in the river sediment. In the water PCBs can accumulate in fish tissue. Tribal fishing platforms extend over the river, but often go unused given the health advisory against any consumption of fish from this area.
Paul Seidel, DEQ’s NW Region Cleanup Program Manager, described the unique nature of Bradford Island saying, “You can see the complete exposure pathway from the contamination in the water to the person who might consume fish from this area. That’s quite rare. Usually cleanup is done on the basis of hypothetical exposure.”
DEQ, Ecology, and the Yakama Nation have been working hard for years with the Corps to have the site cleaned up, but adequate progress has not been made in a timely manner. Additionally, since funding was not allocated to the Corps to progress in its cleanup, transitioning responsibility to the EPA is the best path towards cleanup in the future, Seidel said.
“We believe it is critically important for the health of Oregon and Washington residents and tribal members that this site is cleaned of hazardous materials,” he said, “and that is why we have taken the extraordinary measure of seeking Superfund listing.”
So, what’s next? The EPA has to decide whether the site is eligible for listing. It did not meet the criteria for eligibility in 2008, but much more is now known about the extent of contamination. The EPA will evaluate all of the information about the site to evaluate the risks it poses using their Hazard Ranking System to see if the site scores at or above an established qualifying level.
If it is listed, EPA would be the lead regulatory agency (currently it is the Corps) and DEQ would be a support agency providing oversight on any cleanup work. This would also create a mechanism for funding DEQ work on this site, which does not currently exist. For now, Seidel said he believes this is the best course for DEQ, taking a shared step with Washington and the Yakama Nation to stand up for clean waterways.