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Toxins in Columbia River Lead to Call for Superfund Listing

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Tuesday, June 1, 2021   

HOOD RIVER, Ore. -- Oregon, Washington and the Yakama Nation are asking the Biden administration to list one stretch of the Columbia River as a Superfund site under the Environmental Protection Agency.

Contaminants known as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were found at high levels in the early 2000s above the Bonneville Dam.

For decades, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dumped electrical components in the river. The agency has been cleaning up the site, but non-migratory fish up to a mile from the dam still are listed as "do not eat."

Rose Longoria, regional Superfund projects manager for Yakama Nation Fisheries, said a toxicologist likened eating those fish to eating hazardous waste.

"Our concern is not only the health of that ecosystem," Longoria asserted. "But also the fact that families that are dependent on fish resources from that area are collecting resident fish that may be really, really high in PCB concentrations."

PCB exposure has been linked to health effects including cancer.

Longoria said levels at the site, near Bradford Island, are the highest in the Northwest and higher than at other Superfund sites. A request was made to the Trump administration for listing, with no response.

The Army Corps said it has a responsibility to clean up the area, and will continue doing so if it's listed as a Superfund site.

Davis Washines, government relations liaison for Yakama Nation Fisheries, said the tribe has a right to a healthy river and healthy fish. He noted cleaning it up is important, not only to the people who live there now, but for generations to come.

"We have a responsibility, along with other governments, to make sure that for the future, this will be no longer a health hazard," Washines stated.

Lauren Goldberg, legal and program director for Columbia Riverkeeper, called it "stunning" the Trump administration didn't list the area around Bradford Island as a Superfund site.

She emphasized getting the site on the EPA's National Priorities List would give it stronger legal protections and more funding.

Goldberg noted the ongoing health hazards underscore the importance of listing it.

"To ensure that the Environmental Protection Agency is the lead regulator and that the federal government agency that's responsible for the toxic pollution in the first place, which is the Army Corps of Engineers, is not regulating itself," Goldberg urged.

The EPA said it will evaluate the request. Columbia Riverkeeper expects a decision this summer.

Disclosure: Columbia Riverkeeper contributes to our fund for reporting on Endangered Species and Wildlife, Environment, and Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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