EPA announces milestone cleanup agreement for Portland Harbor Superfund Site

By Rebecca Ellis (OPB)
Feb. 12, 2021 10:28 p.m. Updated: Feb. 13, 2021 9:26 p.m.

The agreement covers the final area of the Superfund site necessitating “active” cleanup

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a major milestone Friday: the federal agency has reached cleanup agreements covering all of the Portland Harbor Superfund Site, a contaminated 10-mile stretch of the Willamette River.

The agency said it has finalized a new agreement with 12 parties to cover the final area of the superfund site that requires “active” cleanup.


The superfund site stretches from the Broadway Bridge to the Columbia Slough. The EPA has found that decades of industrial use left sediment, surface water, and fish with high levels of pollutants that present “an unacceptable risk to people’s health”.

The agency issued a final cleanup plan for the site in 2017 and has been working on negotiating agreements with the parties responsible for cleaning up the contamination. To implement the decision, the EPA said it’s been working with the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, as well as 36 responsible parties and six tribes. The area is of significant importance to the tribes that have relied on the river for thousands of years for hunting and fishing. In the past, some of these tribes have linked the remediation of the river to preserving cultural heritage and demanded local and federal officials take greater steps to safeguard the river.


In a statement, the EPA’s acting regional administrator for the area said the newest agreement would pave the way for better health outcomes for the region’s residents and wildlife.

“This agreement along with earlier settlements, shows a strong commitment to moving the cleanup of Portland Harbor forward,” said administrator Michelle Pirzadeh. “The engineering design work now underway will lead to the active cleanup work, which will greatly improve the health of the river, reduce risks to people and the environment, and set the stage for the revitalization of the Lower Willamette River.”

The new agreement requires the dozen parties to craft plans on cleaning up the highly polluted Swan Island Basin area, which is 117-acres and a mile long. The EPA said the agreement has been signed by a dozen businesses and governmental agencies: Daimler Trucks North America LLC, Vigor Industrial LLC, Cascade General Inc., and Shipyard Commerce Center LLC, Maritime Administration, U.S. Coast Guard, General Services Administration, Bonneville Power Administration, U.S. Department of Defense, State of Oregon, City of Portland, and the Port of Portland.

The agency said in a statement it expects the plan will take roughly four years to develop. The active clean up will begin afterward and is expected to take roughly 13 years and $1 billion. The EPA’s plan includes decontaminating the site through dredging or capping contaminated sediment with clean soil.

Travis Williams, executive director of the Willamette Riverkeeper, hailed the agreement as a significant step toward getting contaminated sediments out of the harbor.

“Two decades after this stretch of the Willamette River was listed as a Superfund site, we will hopefully soon see river sediments contaminated with toxic PCBs, heavy metals, DDE and more will be removed from the river,” Williams wrote in a statement. “The community is happy that this final link in the 11-mile stretch of the Superfund site now has an agreement in place.”


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