Portland Harbor

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


Rob Neely
NOAA Office of Response and Restoration
Seattle, WA
(206) 553-2101

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 the other members of the TrusteeGovernment officials acting on behalf of the public when there is injury to, destruction of, loss of, or threat to natural resources. Council are currently conducting an injury assessment. 
  • Habitat restoration is underway to compensate for injuries resulting from the contamination. The Alder Creek Restoration Project was completed in the summer of 2015, with over 50 acres of aquatic, riparian, and upland forest habitats. More restoration projects are planned, focusing on impacted aquatic, riparian, and floodplain areas. This integrated approach is expected to benefit many species of wildlife and fish, including the federally endangered Chinook salmon.
  • The final Restoration Plan was published in June 2017.

Last updated March 7, 2018