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EPA and Oregon DEQ Move Portland Harbor Superfund Cleanup Forward

One year after cleanup plan was released, agencies announce important accomplishments that will lay the foundation for cleanup work ahead.

Contact Information: 
Suzanne Skadowski (
Laura Gleim (

PORTLAND – Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality announced key milestones and significant progress in moving the cleanup of the Portland Harbor Superfund Site forward. EPA recently reached agreements with responsible parties for critical baseline sampling and for major “hot spot” early cleanup actions in the most heavily contaminated areas of the river. In addition, DEQ has completed work at 65 percent of the known upland sources of pollution to the river, work that will ensure cleaned areas aren’t re-contaminated.

“We’re pleased with the progress we’ve made in this first year implementing the Record of Decision for Portland Harbor and we are committed to keeping up the momentum,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “By cooperating with the state, the tribal nations, other federal partners and the responsible parties, we will keep the cleanup moving toward our shared goals of reducing risks to people and the environment, and returning the Lower Willamette to a healthier and more vital working waterway for all.”

“We’re proud of the progress we’ve made this year removing pollution sources and completing hot spot cleanups along the river,” said DEQ Director Richard Whitman. “A cleaner harbor will protect communities that rely on the river and set the stage for Portland to re-emerge as a vital river city, bringing new jobs and opportunity to Oregonians.”

In January 2017, EPA issued the Record of Decision, or final cleanup plan, for the Portland Harbor Superfund Site, a 10-mile stretch of the Lower Willamette River in Portland, Oregon. The cleanup will reduce health risks to people, fish, and wildlife, and set the stage for commercial and industrial redevelopment and revitalization of the river and waterfront that runs through the economic heart of Portland. Since that time, EPA has been negotiating agreements and helped convene the many responsible parties to ensure cleanup work moves forward. EPA and DEQ have continued to engage communities, tribal nations, state and local governments, environmental organizations and business and industry groups to restore the health and vitality of the Willamette River. EPA recently announced that Portland Harbor is one of 21 priority Superfund sites across the country targeted by the EPA Administrator’s Superfund Task Force for immediate and intense attention (see announcement here).

Highlights of EPA’s cleanup accomplishments this year include:

  • Reached agreement with responsible parties for sampling and cleanup design plans for the Gasco/Siltronic early action cleanup and continued negotiations on agreements for other Early Action Areas, including the River Mile 11 East area. Focused on highest priority and highest risk areas, hot spot cleanups are expected to start in two to three years.
  • Developed a framework for a site-wide sampling plan to update site conditions and refine the active cleanup area boundaries.  
  • Reached agreement with a Pre-Remedial Design group of responsible parties to conduct most of the site-wide baseline sampling to help inform and focus the site-wide cleanup designs (agreement is available online at
  • Expect baseline sampling data to aid the allocation process by providing more certainty about cleanup costs as responsible parties seek agreement on their relative shares of responsibility for the cleanup.

The EPA-DEQ Partnership

Under a 2001 Memorandum of Understanding, EPA manages the cleanup of the in-river areas of the site and DEQ is responsible for the “upland” portion, the contaminated lands along the river. DEQ is investigating and cleaning up contaminated sites along the river uplands to identify and eliminate sources of pollution that can move into the river. To date, DEQ has completed work on about 65 percent, or 110 out of 173, of identified sites needing pollution control, and is actively working on 54 other sites. These source control efforts will ensure that cleaned up areas aren’t re-contaminated and that the cleanup is effective over the long term. DEQ cleanup sites and activities can be found on an interactive Portland Harbor Map.

Highlights of DEQ’s cleanup accomplishments this year include:

  • Completed cleanup actions at five of six contaminated sediment sites in the Downtown Reach, the 5-mile segment upriver of Portland Harbor at Station L, Ross Island Lagoon, Zidell, River Mile 13.1 and River Mile 13.5.
  • Issued a Record of Decision for the former Portland Gas Manufacturing site near the Steel Bridge earlier this year with cleanup work expected to occur in 2019.
  • Conducted sediment investigation in the 10-mile segment above the Downtown Reach with $100K in EPA grant funding. Additional sampling in the Downtown Reach is planned in early 2018 to resolve remaining data gaps.
  • Began working with EPA, tribes and community groups in the Willamette River Toxics Reduction Partnership to identify and assess potential sources of contamination in the Willamette River watershed upriver from Portland Harbor.

The Portland Harbor Site spans 10 miles of the Lower Willamette River. The river sediments, surface water, and the fish that reside in the harbor have high levels of PCBs, PAHs, dioxins/furans, DDT and other pesticides which present an unacceptable risk to people’s health, especially subsistence and tribal fishers, and to the environment.  The cleanup will reduce people’s exposure to high levels of contaminants and will make it safer for all but the most sensitive people to eat more fish from the river more often, and make it safe for people to work and play on the river banks and beaches. The final cleanup plan, released in January 2017, resulted from over 16 years of intensive study and the input EPA received from more than 5,000 public comments.

Under the cleanup plan, contaminated sediments at the site will be addressed through dredging, capping, enhanced natural recovery, and monitored natural recovery. Approximately 394 acres of sediment, out of 2,190 total acres in the site, will be actively remediated with dredging and capping, including removal of over three million cubic yards of contaminated sediments. Approximately 1,774 acres of the site with lower contaminant levels are expected to recover naturally over time. Active cleanup construction work is expected to take about 13 years and cost $1 billion. Following the active cleanup construction phase, EPA expects a 100-fold reduction in contamination-related cancer and other serious risks. The river’s natural recovery process will further reduce these risks.

Following years of extensive community outreach during the cleanup study and development of the Portland Harbor cleanup plan, EPA continues working with communities, tribes, state and local government, environmental organizations, business and industry groups and other stakeholders to move the cleanup forward and restore the Willamette River. EPA is working with community members to update our Portland Harbor Community Involvement Plan to help us continue to successfully engage stakeholders throughout the long-term cleanup. As part of this work, EPA has conducted more than 50 in-person interviews with stakeholders and expects to release an updated plan in 2018. EPA and DEQ Portland Harbor teams continue to share information and updates regularly with the 2001 Memorandum of Understanding partners and natural resources trustees: federally-recognized tribes Grand Ronde, Siletz, Umatilla, Warm Springs, Nez Perce, Yakama, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Department of the Interior.

EPA Portland Harbor Website: Portland Harbor Superfund Site

Oregon DEQ Portland Harbor Website: Portland Harbor

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt established a Superfund Task Force in May 2017.