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Portland Harbor

Hazardous Waste Site | Portland, Oregon | 1900s to Present

What Happened?

Since the early 1900s, numerous facilities have released oil, PCBs polychlorinated biphenyls; a class of chemicals previously used in manufacturing that remain in the environment for many decades, accumulate in living creatures, and pose health hazards to humans, wildlife, and fish., heavy metals, pesticides, and other hazardous substances into Portland Harbor. This highly industrialized area of the Willamette River continues to serve as a hub for the commercial shipping industry.

EPAU.S. Environmental Protection Agency; federal agency with the mission to protect human health and safeguard the environment. designated the area a Superfund siteAn uncontrolled or abandoned place where hazardous waste is located, possibly affecting local ecosystems or people. Sites are listed on the National Priorities List for evaluation and cleanup by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. in 2000. Portions of the contaminated area have been cleaned up, and planning for a large-scale cleanup is underway. NOAA has been providing technical assistance to EPA throughout this process.

What Were the Impacts?

  • Contaminants in Portland Harbor have accumulated in sediments at potentially hazardous levels within an 11-mile stretch of the lower Willamette River and adjacent floodplains.
  • Salmon and lamprey, as well as fish-eating birds (eagles, osprey) and mammals (including mink), have been exposed to these contaminants and may have been injured.
  • Resident fish in the lower Willamette River contain elevated levels of PCBs and mercury. Health advisories restricting fish consumption are in effect. 

What’s Happening Now?

  • NOAA and other Trustee Council members have been conducting a Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) since 2010 for the Portland Harbor site, to evaluate natural resource injuries incurred over time in areas contaminated with hazardous substances (such as DDT, PCBs, and others), and oil.

  • As part of the NRDA process, separate from the EPA cleanup process, NOAA and its co-Trustees are conducting an injury assessment at the site.

  • The scope of the NRDA includes impacts to natural resources such as fish, wildlife, sediments, and surface water, and the lost services related to those resources, including recreational fishing and tribal uses.

  • On August 13, 2020 the Trustee Council released a Draft Supplemental Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment. The Plan proposed purchasing credits from restoration banks as the Preferred Alternative for the current phase of restoration and it evaluates the potential environmental impacts of all the alternatives, consistent with the National Environmental Policy Act.

  • NOAA will accept public comments on the Draft Supplemental Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment by email and postal mail though September 14, 2020. Please send your written comments on the plan to:

    • By email to: portlandharbor.nrda@gmail.com

    • By mail to:
      Lauren Senkyr, NOAA Restoration Center (C/O Parametrix)
      700 NE Multnomah Street, Suite 1000
      Portland, OR 97232

  • The Trustees are also hosting a public webinar to present the plan and answer questions on September 1, 2020 at 6 p.m. p.m. PT. Information on how to register and attend are available here.

Juvenile Chinook salmon.
Juvenile Chinook salmon.

"Since time immemorial we, the River People, have harvested fish in the waters of the Willamette and the Columbia.  Polluted moribund waters cannot give life to the salmon and without that we, the River People, cannot live." 

Chairman Austin Greene, Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon

Contacts

Rob Neely
NOAA Office of Response and Restoration
Seattle, WA
(206) 553-2101
Robert.Neely@noaa.gov

Last updated August 14, 2020