The Yakama Nation and the states of Oregon and Washington are asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to declare a new Superfund site on the Columbia River at Bradford Island alongside Bonneville Dam.
The federal government used Bradford Island as a dump site for decades. It hosted a landfill as well as discarded hydroelectric equipment containing the toxic pollutant polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCB.
Now, the site is so contaminated with pollutants that many of the fish living in the area are too toxic to eat. Fish advisories warn people not to eat the fish because of health risks, but the area is still used for tribal and recreational fishing.
Tribal leaders say cleanup plans have been delayed because the Trump administration decided to cut the funding.
“A delay in the cleanup of the Bradford Island site is unacceptable," Yakama Nation Fisheries Superfund Section Manager Rose Longoria said. "Current site conditions pose a serious threat to human health and the environment requiring an expedited cleanup."
Lauren Goldberg with the environmental nonprofit Columbia Riverkeeper said the area hasn't seen any active cleanup work since 2007, and testing of fish tissue since then has shown contamination levels have gone up.
"There is an urgent need for the government to get its act together and clean up that site," Goldberg said. "The resident fish there — not salmon but fish like bass and sturgeon – contain the highest levels of cancer-causing PCBs of any fish in the Northwest. They're higher than the Portland Harbor Superfund cleanup area."
In a letter sent to Oregon and Washington earlier this month, Goldberg's group and eight others urged the states to seek Superfund status for Bradford Island in response to years of stalled and ineffective cleanup efforts by the federal government.
An EPA spokesman says the agency is considering the request. Under the agency's Superfund process, a determination on the site's priority status would likely be made by 2021 after a rulemaking process that would include public input.