After Superfund listing, cleanup of Columbia River site progresses slowly
Wednesday, January 17, 2024
Advocates are making slow but steady progress to clean up a portion of the Columbia River named a Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Toxic pollution dumped by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for more than 40 years at Bradford Island contaminated fish in the area, which are used as sustenance by the region's Indigenous people.
Rose Longoria, regional Superfund projects manager for Yakama Nation Fisheries, said the contaminated site has been known for two decades, but only recently got Superfund listing.
"If it wasn't for Yakama Nation, Bradford Island would not be on the National Priorities List," Longoria pointed out. "And even now, I believe that if it wasn't for Yakama, no one else would be pushing as hard to get this site the attention that it needs."
There is a Do Not Eat Advisory for resident fish near Bradford Island. Organizations like Columbia Riverkeeper have created advisories in English and Spanish to let people know which fish are safe to harvest.
Laura Shira, environmental engineer for Yakama Nation Fisheries, said resident fish near Bradford Island have the highest in the nation concentration of a toxic compound known as Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.
"There's all these fishing platforms -- on the Washington shoreline, on Goose Island, on the Oregon shoreline -- and those are tribal fishing platforms," Shira explained. "They're within like a quarter to a third of a mile of what we know to be the worst contaminated area on that north shore of Bradford Island."
While it has been listed as a Superfund site, the Yakama Nation and others in the region are still waiting for a concrete cleanup plan. Longoria argued the PCB levels in resident fish make it an emergency and thinks the federal government should act quickly to correct the situation.
"There are significant data gaps that need to be filled," Longoria acknowledge. "But we need to do that as expeditiously as possible and determine the full nature and extent of contamination, and determine the best way of cleaning up the site to protect human health and the environment."
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