Highly contaminated Bradford Island in the Columbia River is listed as a Superfund site

The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday designated Bradford Island in the Columbia River and its surrounding waters as a Superfund cleanup site.

Environmental, conservation and health groups, along with tribes, lawmakers and state agencies, call the listing a huge victory, after spending nearly three years asking the federal government to list the site. contaminated for priority cleaning.

Aerial view of Bradford Island located near Cascade Locks on the Columbia River.

Courtesy of Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

The Superfund listing, announced by EPA Administrator Michael Regan, will now require federal regulators to apply the highest cleaning standards to the area. Having Superfund status will mean more federal funding and strict deadlines for the US Army Corps of Engineers to clean up the pollution it dumped on the site. The Superfund process also includes opportunities for the public to comment on cleanup plans.

At a press conference announcing the listing, Oregon Governor Kate Brown said she hoped the Superfund listing would mark a turning point in the history of the region and the people who depend on it.

“Oregon, along with the Yakama Nation and Washington State have worked for more than 20 years to see progress in addressing this injustice,” Brown said.

Bradford Island, located near Cascade Locks, was used by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1930s as a dump site while the agency built Bonneville Dam. This marked the start of four decades of dumping of debris and electrical equipment containing highly toxic chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls, known as PCBs, directly into the river and contaminating the island and surrounding waters.

Once PCBs are present in the environment, they do not break down easily and can accumulate in fish tissue. PCBs are known to have adverse effects on human health, and eating fish is one of the most common routes by which the toxic chemical enters the human body. Health agencies in Oregon and Washington have issued health advisories warning people to avoid eating resident fish on Bradford Island due to high levels of PCBs.

The area is important to the Yakama Nation and many other tribes in the area for its traditional hunting and fishing grounds. Tribes have expressed concern about high levels of contamination in the area.

“The Yakama Nation and our partners have worked hard to have the site added to the Superfund list because, even after two decades of work at the site, contamination of resident fish remains alarmingly high,” said project manager Rose Longoria. Yakama Nation Fisheries Superfund Regional. A press release. “The decision to add Bradford Island to the Superfund list is a major first step in getting the EPA and the Corps to accelerate cleanup actions.”

East end of Bradford Island where the US Army Corps of Engineers dumped toxic materials into the river.

East end of Bradford Island where the US Army Corps of Engineers dumped toxic materials into the river.

Monica Samayoa/OPB

The Corps began clearing the area in the 1980s, but progress was slow. These efforts finally ended in 2007 after the agency removed contaminated sediment along the coastline of Bradford Island. Then, in 2011, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality took tissue samples from resident fish and found that contamination levels were still too high for the health of resident fish and the people who care for them. eat.

During this time, the Corps and the DEQ were working together under a voluntary cleanup program agreement in which the Corps paid the DEQ’s monitoring fees for their participation. But that deal was terminated by the Corps in September 2019, leading DEQ to join environmental groups and state leaders in pursuit of Superfund listing.

Now, the Corps will still be responsible for the cleanup process, but with Superfund status, the EPA will oversee the cleanup and require a legally enforceable agreement from the Corps.

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley said the environmental damage has gone on too long and is affecting tribal fishing waters, fish ecosystems and human health.

“Fish caught in this area still contain the highest levels of carcinogenic PCBs in the Pacific Northwest,” he said. “So it’s a late business.”

Advocates first urged the EPA to list Bradford Island as a Superfund site in 2019 when samples taken from sediment and resident fish tissue showed high levels of contamination. But in 2020, the Trump administration did not consider listing the area. Last summer, the same groups urged the Biden administration to live up to its commitment to environmental justice and list the site for a federal cleanup.

The EPA will now assess the full extent of contamination in the area and consider alternative strategies for longer-term cleanup goals. The agency will also work with the Corps to create a formal agreement on how the cleanup will progress. The Corps did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Yakama Nation Tribal Councilor Gerald Lewis said while the tribesmen appreciate the EPA listing on Bradford Island, their hope is more than getting the involvement of the EPA.

“For the Yakama Nation, our goal is simple: clean, healthy fish that is safe to eat,” he said.

Other tribes include Bradford Island in their traditional hunting and fishing grounds are Confederate Tribes of Warm Springs, Nez Perce Tribe, Confederate Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon, Confederate Tribes of Indian Reservation of Umatilla, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde and the Cowlitzes. Indian tribe.

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