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Sept. 26, 2021

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EPA recommends adding Columbia River’s Bradford Island to Superfund

Section of river, island near Bonneville Dam would be part of federal toxic cleanup program

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
2 Photos
Bradford Island and the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River in 2019.
Bradford Island and the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River in 2019. (The Columbian files) Photo Gallery

A nearby stretch of the Columbia River may soon join a list of sites slated for a federal toxic cleanup program, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday.

The area encompasses Bradford Island, which is within the Bonneville Dam complex. The EPA is recommending that the island be added to the federal Superfund National Priorities List: a list of sites across the country prioritized for cleanup due to the existence or potential existence of hazardous pollutants.

“This is great news for protection of the Columbia River,” Laura Watson, director of the Washington State Department of Ecology, said in a media release immediately following the EPA’s announcement.

“The Columbia is a cherished resource for the residents of Washington and Oregon, and the people of the Yakama Nation. We are hopeful that this highly contaminated site will finally get the resources it needs to ensure a cleaner river with healthier salmon.”

Up until 1982, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had disposed of hazardous waste in a landfill on Bradford Island. Toxins from the landfill leached into the river, resulting in heavy metals and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in the nearby sediment.

PCBs have also been detected in fish and shellfish near the island. In 2013, the Washington State Department of Health and the Oregon Health Authority recommended that no one eat the resident fish from the area.

PCBs — widely used in industrial and commercial settings until the late 1970s — are chemicals that can damage the immune system, affect learning abilities among children and potentially cause cancer.

The EPA’s announcement was widely regarded as an overdue attempt to restore the river for the region’s Native American tribes, who had originally fished the waterway. The Yakama Nation spent years petitioning the EPA to prioritize the site, a push that in 2019 was formally joined by Washington and Oregon.

“The timing is critical. Adding the Bradford Island site to the national Superfund list will add structure and an enforceable schedule with milestones which are desperately needed,” Rose Longoria, regional Superfund project manager with Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, said in a media release from environmental advocacy group Columbia Riverkeeper.

Bradford Island is owned by the federal government and operated by the Corps, who have been leading the cleanup efforts for the last 23 years. In that time, they’ve removed electrical equipment and some of the contaminated sediment. The Corps has also completed several studies attempting to locate and characterize the sources of contamination on the island.

If the EPA moves forward with designating the island as a Superfund site, the Corps will remain the lead agency conducting the cleanup but will do so with more direct oversight from the EPA. The designation would also mean that the two agencies need to establish a legally enforceable agreement that defines a work schedule and formal dispute resolution process.

Specific plans for how best to clean up the site don’t yet exist, the EPA clarified in a fact sheet that details the proposal.

To comment

Wednesday’s announcement kicks off a 60-day public comment period. Starting today, people can comment on the project by visiting www.regulations.gov and using docket number EPA-HQ-OLEM-2021-0462 to submit their thoughts online.

Comments can also be sent via email to Region10@epa.gov (the agency asks that senders include “Bradford Island” in the subject line) or via mail to the following address:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 10

1200 Sixth Ave., Suite 155, MS 12-D12-1

Seattle, WA 98101

The comment period closes on Nov. 8.

A handful of current and former Superfund sites already exist in Clark County, including the Bonneville Power Administration’s Ross Complex and the smelter Alcoa (both of which were delisted in 1996 after EPA cleanup efforts). Two of Vancouver’s water stations were proposed for the list but ultimately deleted following the public comment period.

Columbian staff writer
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