DEQ’s pursuit of a Superfund site cleanup: Portland Harbor 101

Portland Harbor is a heavily industrialized stretch of the Willamette River, extending from Portland’s Broadway Bridge to Sauvie Island. Due to decades of industrial activity, some of the sediment, or mud, in the river and along the riverbank is contaminated with pollutants, including PCBs, dioxins and other potentially harmful chemicals. Work to clean up Portland Harbor has been going on for decades, so it is a good time to get back to basics and review some of the most important facts about the Portland Harbor Superfund Site:

  • The Superfund is in the river bottom. The area designated as a Superfund site is literally the bottom of the Willamette River, bank to bank, from the Broadway Bridge to Sauvie Island. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is the lead agency for investigating and cleaning up contaminated sediment in the river. DEQ supports and collaborates with EPA to ensure this work corresponds with Oregon’s cleanup requirements. But, overall, Superfund = EPA lead agency.
  • It will be kept clean by controlling sources of contamination on land. DEQ is the lead agency for overseeing the cleanup of properties located on the banks of the river, called upland sites. These sites may be sources of pollution to the river, so cleaning them up is crucial for preventing ongoing and future contamination. Upland = DEQ.
  • Cleanup plans for upland sites are based on their intended use. DEQ is responsible for approving the cleanup plans that address contamination on upland sites. First, the property owner decides how they’re going to use their property (continue current operations, redevelop a vacant site, etc.). Based on that use, DEQ determines what needs to be done to protect human health and the environment.
  • Don’t eat the fish. The primary threat to human health is eating contaminated fish that live in this stretch of the river, such as bass, carp and catfish. See Oregon Health Authority’s fish advisory.
  • The cleanup is good for wildlife.  The sediment cleanup will also address risks to animals living in the river such as juvenile lamprey, river otters and birds of prey.

Now that you know the basics, stay tuned for more articles about Portland Harbor. You can stay involved and up-to-date by joining the GovDelivery listserv for Portland Harbor where you can receive text or email updates.

– Lauren Wirtis, public affairs specialist

Published by Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

DEQ’s mission is to be a leader in restoring, maintaining and enhancing the quality of Oregon’s air, land and water.