Forty-five people gathered Tuesday evening in Cascade Locks at the “Forgotten Toxic Waste Dump” community forum hosted by environmental nonprofit Columbia Riverkeeper.
Speakers included Lauren Goldberg, legal and program director for Riverkeeper; Rebecca Hillwig, natural resource specialist with the Oregon Health Authority; and Rebeccah Winnier, owner of Northwest Fish Hogs and a Yakama Nation tribal member.
For over 40 years, the U.S. government dumped toxic pollution in and along the Columbia’s shorelines at Bradford Island, located near Bonneville Dam in Multnomah County, said a Riverkeeper press release. The area is a historical tribal fishing area. Today, tribal people and diverse communities use the area for subsistence and recreational fishing despite advisories warning not to eat resident fish.
“Resident fish like sturgeon and bass caught near Bradford Island contain some of the highest levels of cancer-causing Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the Pacific Northwest,” said Goldberg. “It’s time to hold the U.S. government accountable for the toxic pollution dumped in the Columbia River and along the shores of Bradford Island.”
Last week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency responsible for cleanup, announced that the Trump administration’s proposed budget would slash cleanup funding for Bradford Island cleanup. Until recently, the Corps had planned a public comment period on a draft cleanup plan covering pollution located on Bradford Island this fall. While the Corps must prepare a cleanup plan for pollution located in bedrock and sediment in the Columbia River, the agency has not announced when that plan will be released for public comment.
“(Pollution around Bradford Island) is not just a Native problem. We’re all connected to this river,” said Winnier.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) have a voluntary cleanup agreement to evaluate and clean up various sources of contaminants on the island. It has been over a decade since the Corps last engaged in active cleanup of toxic pollution around Bradford Island, said Riverkeeper.
According to the Oregon Health Authority’s fish advisory, which extends from Bonneville Dam upstream to Ruckel Creek, “Fish are nutritious, but resident fish from this area contain PCBs that may harm your health. Salmon, steelhead, lamprey and shad are NOT included in this fish advisory. They are a healthy choice from the Columbia River.”
The fish advisory, issued in 2013, notes that salmon, steelhead, shad and lamprey are considered safe to eat. The Washington Health Department also issued a fish advisory for the Bradford Island area.
During the forum, Columbia Riverkeeper’s legal and program director described past cleanup actions by the Corps and expressed significant concerns about how funding cuts would impact critical cleanup actions on the island and in the river.
In the early 2000s, the Corps conducted an emergency cleanup action when electrical equipment was discovered in the Columbia River. In 2007, the Corps used diver-assisted dredging in an effort to reduce toxic pollution from PCBs, a man-made chemical found in a number of industrial products. Subsequent reports and sampling concluded that PCB concentrations in resident fish remain extremely high.
The area is also contaminated with lead, mercury, pesticides, and petroleum chemicals.
Learn about Bradford Island cleanup and public involvement opportunities at www.columbiariverkeeper.org/bradford-island-cleanup.