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Portland Harbor Superfund

Information
The Portland Harbor Superfund is a 10-mile stretch of the lower Willamette River between the Broadway Bridge and the southern tip of Sauvie Island. This stretch of the river was designated a Superfund Site by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2000.
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About the Portland Harbor Superfund Site

Historical shipping, industrial, and commercial activity before environmental regulations resulted in chemical contamination of the Willamette River riverbed and requires cleanup. Approximately 150 parties are considered potentially responsible for the contamination.

The EPA oversees the entire cleanup process and ensures that actions by all parties align with its cleanup plan, also known as the Record of Decision. The cleanup plan is designed to reduce risks to human health and the environment using cleanup techniques such as dredging, capping, enhanced natural recovery and monitored natural recovery. EPA's cleanup plan calls for the removal of about 3 million cubic yards of contaminated sediments and active remediation of 23,305 feet (roughly 4.4 miles) of the riverbank. The agency estimates that the cleanup will cost approximately $1.05 billion and take 30 years to complete.

Parties across the harbor are working now to determine how to implement EPA's cleanup plan. The EPA provides regular updates about parties' progress on the Portland Harbor Superfund website.

Community and Cultural Significance

While the area is known today as the Portland Harbor, it holds historical, natural, and cultural significance for the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon, the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, the Nez Perce Tribe, and diverse Portland communities.

You can learn more about relevant histories, involved parties, the role of Tribes, the cleanup process, progress, and community involvement opportunities at EPA's Portland Harbor Superfund Site StoryMap.

Risks to the Community

Disproportionate Impacts

The contamination in Portland Harbor has significantly limited the ability of many Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities to practice traditions considered essential to cultural identity, including ceremonies, celebrations, harvesting, and safely feeding one’s family with resident fish from the river. Housed and unhoused residents who live in neighborhoods near the Superfund site will be affected by the cleanup process. It is important that these communities have input as the cleanup moves forward.

Health Risks

The primary long-term health risk of the Portland Harbor Superfund site is eating resident fish and shellfish. Carp, catfish, bass, and clams contain the most significant amount of contaminants and should not be eaten. Consumption of black crappie, crayfish, and mussels should be limited.

Learn what fish are and are not safe to eat, and access educational resources by visiting Multnomah County's Eating Fish from the River webpage.

The City's Role in the Cleanup

As a steward of the Willamette River and public funds, the City has many roles in the Portland Harbor Superfund cleanup. Through collaborative actions with government, tribal, community, and private partners we have moved the cleanup process forward by:

  • Entering the cleanup process early so the public's interests were represented in the early data collection phases.
  • Working with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to identify businesses that need to take action to prevent contaminants from entering the Willamette River through City outfalls.
  • Working with the State on an innovative agreement with EPA that keeps cleanup design moving forward throughout the river while limiting public administrative costs. 
  • Establishing a dedicated community involvement and grantmaking program to support public participation in the cleanup process.

The City continues to collaborate with our partners to achieve a healthier river by:

  • Working with the State of Oregon to ensure the information needs of tribal governments, public agencies, community members, and businesses are considered in the EPA's decision-making.
  • Providing ongoing funding for the Multnomah County fish advisory education and outreach program.
  • Partnering with the Oregon Department of State Lands and the Port of Portland to engineer EPA's cleanup plan for Willamette Cove.
  • Partnering with Cargill, CBS Corporation, DIL Trust, Glacier Northwest, and PacifiCorp to design a complex cleanup at River Mile 11 East.
  • Co-convening the Willamette Cove Working Group with the State, Port of Portland, Metro, and community members disproportionately affected by the contamination and cleanup.
  • Awarding $180,000 in Portland Harbor Community Grants to eight community organizations to support meaningful participation of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in the cleanup process.

How the City Pays for Portland Harbor

Residents who receive a City of Portland sanitary and stormwater utility bill have likely noticed a line item for the Portland Harbor Superfund. The charge is based on a household's impervious areas (such as driveways and concrete patios) and sewer flow.

Visit the Sanitary Sewer and Stormwater Rates and Charges page for more information on how the Portland Harbor Superfund charge is calculated.

How to Get Involved

You can stay updated on the Portland Harbor cleanup by joining the Portland Harbor Collaborative. The group meets quarterly and is co-convened by EPA, DEQ, and community members. Contact knudsen.laura@epa.gov for details.

The Collaborative also has two project area-specific working groups, the Willamette Cove Working Group and the Cathedral Park Working Group. Contact jessica.terlikowski@portlandore… to connect with the Willamette Cove Working Group and knudsen.laura@epa.gov for the Cathedral Park Working Group.
 
You can also stay connected through groups like the Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group, Portland Harbor Community Coalition, Portland Audubon, Willamette Riverkeeper, and Willamette River Advocacy Group