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Anacostia River

Hazardous Waste Site | Washington, DC | Late 1800s to present

What Happened?

The Anacostia River, which runs through Maryland and the District of Columbia, has suffered from many decades of pollution, mainly from runoff and hazardous waste sites. Located only 3,000 yards from Capitol Hill, the Anacostia River is one of the Chesapeake Bay's most heavily altered and contaminated watersheds. Communities along the Anacostia have been disproportionately impacted by this pollution.

NOAA has been working with the District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment, the National Park Service, and the Fish and Wildlife Service as natural resource trustees to evaluate, clean up, and restore the Anacostia watershed since the late 1990s. The Anacostia River watershed is home to more than 800,000 people, 43 species of fish, and 200 species of birds. 

What Were the Impacts?

The tidal Anacostia River begins at the confluence of the Northwest Branch and Northeast Branch of the Anacostia River near Bladensburg, MD and includes the mainstem Anacostia River, Kingman Lake, and the Washington Channel. 

The watershed contains multiple hazardous waste sites including Washington Navy Yard, a National Priorities Superfund Site, as well as Washington Gas and Light, Kenilworth Park Landfill, Pepco Benning Road and CSX Benning Yard. It also receives runoff from storm sewers and combined sewer overflows. 

Contaminants of concern in the tidal Anacostia River include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), heavy metals, PAHs, dioxins, pesticides, and other volatile organic compounds. Concentrations of PCBs exceed state and federal limit levels in surface waters and sediments in many reaches and branches and accumulate in fish and other biota. PCBs have immune, reproductive, endocrine, and neurological effects, and may cause cancer and affect children's cognitive development.  Lead concentrations in sediments also exceed the state and federal limit levels at various points throughout the river, including Kingman Lake and the Washington Channel. 

The following fish consumption advisories have been issued by the DC Department of Energy and Environment based on high levels of PCBs and other chemical contaminants in the river and fish:

  • do not eat: eel, carp or striped bass

  • may eat: four servings per month of sunfish, or three servings per month of blue catfish or white perch, or two servings per month of largemouth bass, or one serving per month of brown bullhead catfish or channel catfish

  • choose to eat: smaller fish of legal size

  • the practice of catch and release is encouraged

What's Happening Now?

Clean up efforts, led by the EPA, DC DOEE, DOI, and local partners are on-going throughout the river. The natural resource trustees are providing support for remedial investigations and natural resource damage assessments for several sites on the Anacostia River that have contributed to toxic contaminants in surface water, sediment, and fish in the river.

In October 2021, the co-trustees completed a Pre-assessment Screen.

Additionally, the co-trustees have begun to engage with individual responsible parties along the river to conduct both cleanup and restoration activities.

NOAA has also been actively engaged in the wider Anacostia and DC area including efforts to support the Leadership Council for a Cleaner Anacostia River, the Washington DC Anacostia River Sediment Project, and the Anacostia chapter of the Federal Urban Waters Partnership.

On July 17, 2023  the trustees released a draft damage assessment plan for public comment. The draft plan describes the Trustees’ proposed approach to assess natural resource and resource service injuries resulting from the release of hazardous substances in the Anacostia River. The draft plan is available for comments from July 17 to September 16. After the comment period closes, the Trustees will review the comments and prepare the Final Damage Assessment Plan.

a group of people in turquoise shirts help to cleanup the Anacostia river site
Volunteers gather to cleanup DC’s Anacostia River at the 25th Annual Anacostia Watershed Society Earth Day Cleanup. (NOAA)

"NOAA is excited to work with our co-trustees and other partners to cleanup and restore the Anacostia River.  This national treasure, just steps from the Capital, requires a robust cleanup to accelerate recovery and restoration for the public, including disadvantaged communities who have suffered disproportionately from its pollution."Diane EversNortheast/Great Lakes Region Branch ChiefNOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration


Dan Takaki NOAA Assessment and Restoration DivisionSilver Spring, MD(202)

Last updated April 22, 2024