UPDATE (5 p.m. PT) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is ordering two companies to do their part in the Portland Harbor Superfund Site cleanup.
On Thursday, the agency sent two enforcement orders to Schnitzer Steel and Evraz Inc., two companies that once had steel mills in Portland that dumped hazardous waste into the river, according to the EPA orders.
The two companies petitioned the EPA earlier this month to update and scale back its cleanup plans for nearly 11 miles of Portland's Willamette River. The agency is now ordering them to submit individual cleanup commitments for their portions of the Superfund site.
The orders are each more than a hundred pages long, detailing the kind of cleanup work and financial obligations that will be required for each company. The agency gave the companies 10 days to respond, noting that it will make accommodations for any deadlines the companies can’t meet because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The highly contaminated Superfund site stretches from the Broadway Bridge to the Columbia Slough. More than a hundred parties share responsibility for the cleanup. Dozens of them have already signed agreements with the EPA to do their share of the work.
The cleanups will likely involve dredging to remove the most contaminated soil from the bottom of the river and covering less contaminated areas with clean soil.
But four companies, including Schnitzer Steel and Evraz, have been holding out because they argue the EPA needs to update its cleanup plans to reflect new data showing lower pollution levels in the river.
The EPA's cleanup plans for the Portland Harbor Superfund Site were finalized in its 2017 record of decision. The next stage of the cleanup process involves individual parties designing their own cleanup plans for their portions of the site.
Last year the EPA rejected a request that was similar to the one made this month by Schitzer Steel and Evraz. The agency sent another response to the companies' recent petition in a separate letter this week, telling them it would consider their petition to be "late comments" to the EPA's 2017 record of decision for the Superfund site, and that it would respond after its review of the site cleanup.
Evraz said in a statement it has received the EPA enforcement action and is reviewing it. The company had no further comment. Schnitzer Steel sent a statement to OPB noting it was one of four companies that volunteered to collect new pollution data from the Superfund site in 2018-19.
"This new data demonstrated that the site has recovered significantly since the stale data on which EPA's decision was based," the company's statement said, defending its position that the cleanup could be less extensive and costly, based on the new data.
"Unfortunately, EPA has side-stepped our every good faith attempt," the statement continued. Schnitzer Steel also said it was "unconscionable" to be given a three-week deadline to deliver cleanup plans during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been declared a national emergency.
“Like most Americans as well as nearly every business in the United States, Schnitzer is focused on the health and safety of our workers and on maintaining our operations as a critical infrastructure and essential business,” the statement said.