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Environmental Services

working for clean rivers

Phone: 503-823-7740

Fax: 503-823-6995

1120 SW 5th Avenue, Room 1000, Portland, OR 97204

Portland Harbor Sediment Investigation

Who is Involved?

Portland Harbor aerial photoThe Lower Willamette Group (LWG) is a group of private entities, the City of Portland, and the Port of Portland that signed an Administrative Order on Consent with EPA in 2001. The Order requires the LWG to conduct and pay for a Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study (RI/FS) that will:

  1. Identify the location of contamination in Portland Harbor
  2. Determine if there are risks to humans, fish, or wildlife
  3. Evaluate cleanup options.

Lower Willamette Group members are:

  • Arkema Inc.
  • Bayer CropScience, Inc.
  • BNSF Railway Company
  • Chevron U.S.A., Inc.
  • City of Portland
  • ConocoPhillips Company
  • Gunderson LLC
  • KinderMorgan Liquids Terminals
  • NW Natural
  • Evraz Inc. NA, dba Evraz Oregon Steel
  • Port of Portland
  • Siltronic Corporation
  • TOC Holdings Co.
  • Union Pacific Railroad Company

What Do We know About Risks?

In October 2009, LWG submitted a Draft Remedial Investigation Report (RI) to EPA. Developing the RI involved sampling and analysis of data over a number of years to evaluate the contamination in the river, and identify risks to human health and the environment.

These four chemical groups that are primarily related to historical releases account for most of the potential human health and ecological risks throughout the Portland Harbor area:

  • PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls)
  • Dioxin/furans
  • The pesticide DDT
  • PAHs (polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, generally associated with petroleum products)

Other chemicals present potential risks in specific areas.

The RI indicates that PCBs are the most significant and widespread chemicals posing potential risks to humans and wildlife. Eating resident fish such as carp, bass, and bullhead - not migratory fish such as salmon - represents the primary exposure pathway for risk to humans and aquatic mammals. The city, a member of the LWG, is working with EPA to finalize the RI.

How Will Risks be Reduced?

In February 2012, LWG submitted its draft Feasibility Study (FS) to EPA. The FS develops and evaluates alternative cleanup options and the costs of those options. The FS looks at the various technologies that can be used to manage contaminated sediments and provides information EPA can use to decide how the site should be cleaned up. The cleanup will likely be a combination of different technologies. Some contaminants may be removed, some areas may be capped and some areas with low levels of contamination may be monitored to determine if the contaminants will degrade naturally over time. LWG is working with EPA to finalize the FS.

Next Steps in the Superfund Process

Based on the FS, EPA will write a Proposed Plan and propose a preferred course of action. EPA will collect public comments on the Proposed Plan, and then issue a Record of Decision (ROD). A ROD is the document that describes EPA’s decision regarding how the site should be cleaned up.

The FS does not determine who will pay the costs of cleanup, define precise cleanup boundaries, or select cleanup methods or sediment disposal sites. Those decisions will take place after EPA has prepared a Proposed Plan for public review and issues a Record of Decision.

The timing of when EPA issues a Proposed Plan and then the ROD depends on many factors, but it will likely be several more years. To turn that plan into action, detailed engineering designs for each cleanup area will have to be prepared, and then the actual cleanup work in the river will take many more years.

Cleanup Costs and Who Pays

Actual cleanup costs will not be determined until after the ROD is issued. However, the draft FS uses various assumptions and evaluates different cleanup alternatives, and estimates in-water work could take from 2 to 28 years, at a cost from between $169 million and $1.8 billion.

The city is one of more than 100 parties working on an out of court settlement to find agreement on how to fund and implement EPA’s selected cleanup. Because cleanup actions have not yet been determined, Portland Harbor cleanup costs are not known at this stage. The Superfund law operates under the “polluter pays" principle. Some of the industries may no longer exist, and sometimes the entity that caused the contamination cannot be identified. In this case, the federal Superfund (which is currently unfunded) or the other responsible parties may end up paying a portion of the remedial costs of this “orphan share.”