Protecting Oregon's Environment
Oregon State Seal
Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

Land Quality 

Cleanup Sites With Individual Web Pages 

Receive Portland Harbor announcements. Sign up to receive email notices about Portland Harbor.

Joint Source Control Strategy
Stormwater Resources
Fact Sheets, Newsletters and Presentations
Understanding More About Portland Harbor
Schedule a File Review
Willamette River Study

Portland Harbor

Understanding More About Portland Harbor

How did Portland Harbor become a Superfund Site?

A study performed in 1997 by the Environmental Protection Agency and DEQ found that sediments in the bed of the lower Willamette River between Sauvie Island and Swan Island were highly contaminated. The study is called the Sediment Investigation Report, or the "Weston Report". The list of contaminants include metals like mercury and tributyl tin, pesticides like DDT, and other hazardous substances such as PCBs, petroleum products, and dioxins. As a result, in July 2000, EPA proposed that this stretch of the river, referred to as Portland Harbor, be placed on the National Priorities List, commonly know as Superfund. Governor Kitzhaber concurred with the proposed listing in a July 2000 letter to Carol Browner, EPA Administrator, and attached a Statement of General Principles that provides a framework for State and EPA roles and responsibilities related to the complex environmental cleanup. The principles highlight the importance of both agencies working closely with Tribal governments, local governments and the community. Portland Harbor was officially placed on the federal National Priorities List in a December 1, 2000 Federal Register.

What are the roles of EPA and DEQ in cleaning up the Harbor?

The Governor’s principles are reflected in the Portland Harbor Memorandum of Understanding, which was signed by EPA and DEQ in February 2001. Under the MOU, DEQ serves as the lead agency for cleaning up sites located on the banks of the river (called “upland” sites), and EPA is responsible for cleanup of contaminated sediments in the river. DEQ will also be responsible for coordinating with state and local efforts such as the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds and the City of Portland Combined Sewer Overflow project, ensuring that work in the Harbor is linked to ongoing Willamette River restoration work.

EPA and DEQ are part of a larger inter-governmental project team that includes natural resource trustee organizations, which are designated by law to act on behalf of the public or tribes to protect natural resources, such as salmon, migratory birds and their habitat. The trustees involved in the Portland Harbor project include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and six Tribal governments, including the Grand Ronde, Nez Perce, Siletz, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama. The tribal governments participate in the project as both trustees and as sovereign nations. All of the natural resource trustees are signatory parties to the 2001 MOU.

EPA’s investigation and cleanup of sediments in the river

In September 2001, the EPA finished negotiating an agreement with members of the Lower Willamette Group, a coalition of Portland Harbor businesses and public agencies who voluntarily stepped forward to participate in the investigation and cleanup of the Portland Harbor Superfund Site. The agreement is a legal document called an Administrative Order on Consent, which outlines how the LWG will conduct a Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study for the river. The AOC and attached Statement of Work describes the tasks that the LWG will perform and pay for as part of the RI/FS, which will determine the nature and extent of contamination in the Harbor and the risks it poses to people and the environment. EPA expects the RI/FS to be completed in 2010 or 2011, after which EPA will issue a Record of Decision describing how the Portland Harbor site will be cleaned up.

DEQ's investigation and cleanup of sites adjacent to the river

As of 2006, DEQ was actively investigating and cleaning up over 60 sites on the banks of the Willamette in Portland Harbor to identify and eliminate sources of pollution that can move into the river. You can locate the cleanup sites on the Portland Harbor Map; click on any site on this map to get information on contaminants and the work that has been done so far.

In 2005, DEQ and EPA released a Joint Source Control Strategy for the Harbor that describes the process for identifying and prioritizing sites adjacent to the river for cleanup. Under the strategy, DEQ assesses the various "pathways" that contaminants can take to reach the river and evaluates methods for controlling those contaminants to prevent recontamination of river sediments after they are cleaned up. For example, contaminated soil or groundwater at a site that is adjacent to the river can move into the river and contaminate sediments and species that use the river. The Joint Source Control Strategy addresses all of the major sources of contamination, including storm water run-off, permitted industrial discharges, and waste management practices.

Responsible parties are funding the investigation and cleanup work in Portland Harbor, including DEQ’s oversight costs. Throughout the process, DEQ works closely with the Portland Harbor inter-governmental project team in reviewing draft legal and technical documents and ensuring that state laws and local issues are considered and addressed.

Community Involvement

Community involvement is critical to the success of the cleanup. EPA and DEQ maintain a mailing list of people who are interested in what’s happening in the Harbor, and periodically send out Fact Sheets and newsletters. EPA, DEQ and the Oregon Department of Human Services developed a Community Involvement Plan that describes activities the agencies use to inform and involve the public as the project proceeds. If you have comments on the community involvement plan, or would like to be added to the mailing list, please contact Judy Smith, EPA Community Involvement Coordinator at 503-326-6994, toll free at 1-800-424-4372; or Marcia Danab, DEQ Community Involvement Coordinator at 503-229-6488, toll free in Oregon 1-800-452-4011 x6488.

Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group
A group of interested citizens and representatives of local organizations have formed a Community Advisory Group for the Portland Harbor Superfund Site. CAGs are often formed in communities that have Superfund sites, and there are over 60 CAGs throughout the country. The Portland Harbor CAG provides a forum for community members to learn about what is happening, to provide information to DEQ and EPA about the cleanup, and to voice suggestions or concerns about the process. Portland Harbor CAG members represent various community sectors, including neighborhood associations, environmental justice and human health issues, environmental organizations, fishing communities, and recreational users of the river. For information on how you can get involved in the CAG contact, Travis Williams or Joe Keating.

Technical Assistance Grant
To help explain technical information to the public, EPA has awarded a $50,000 Technical Assistance Grant to Willamette Riverkeeper. The grant is intended to help community members understand scientific and technical information related to the investigation and cleanup in Portland Harbor. Willamette Riverkeeper will act as a community resource, sharing their findings with the community.

Public Health Information

Two agencies share responsibility for assessing potential risks to the community's health from contamination. One is a federal agency located in Atlanta, Georgia, called the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. ATSDR is required to assess the potential health risks to the public from Superfund sites within one year of the site being proposed for listing. ATSDR looks at possible ways the contaminants could reach humans through the air, water, soil or food chain. A preliminary health assessment was issued in January 2002.

ATSDR's preliminary evaluation concluded that more fish sampling is needed to determine the threat posed by eating contaminated fish.

The Oregon Department of Health Services, Superfund Health Investigation and Education Program is the state agency responsible for building on the initial work conducted by ATSDR. The SHINE Program is working to assess health effects of the contamination in Portland Harbor and to educate the community on how to reduce or prevent exposures for both the in-water and upland portions of the site. SHINE concluded that eating contaminated fish is the main way people are exposed to chemicals and toxics at the site. In 2005, SHINE published a Public Health Assessment report that describes contaminant levels in fish tissue in Portland Harbor and provides information to help people reduce their exposure and risk. SHINE is also collaborating with community organizations to reach out to various ethnic groups and special populations who catch and consume fish from the Portland Harbor area. SHINE provides funding to communities for these efforts.

DHS issued a fish advisory because of high levels of toxics in resident fish in Portland Harbor. The advisory recommends that women of childbearing age, particularly pregnant or breastfeeding women, children and people with weak immune systems, thyroid or liver problems, should avoid eating resident fish, especially carp, bass and catfish, caught between Sauvie Island and the Fremont Bridge in the Lower Willamette River. In the future, the SHINE Program will be working on a series of public health assessments that will evaluate the public health impact of contaminant levels on Portland Harbor recreational users.

What is the role of the Corps of Engineers?

EPA, DEQ and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers share complementary responsibilities within the Portland Harbor Superfund Site. The three agencies have entered into a letter agreement to promote more effective communication and to establish a long-term coordination strategy during the cleanup. The USACE issues permits for dredging and maintains the Federal Navigation Channel. These and other USACE activities in Portland Harbor need to be coordinated with the environmental work directed by DEQ and EPA. By signing this agreement, all three agencies commit to coordinate with each other as they carry out their various obligations in Portland Harbor.

[print version]

For more information on Portland Harbor, please see the Portland Harbor Contact page.

For more information about DEQ's Land Quality programs, visit the DEQ contact page.

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality
Headquarters: 811 SW Sixth Ave., Portland, OR 97204-1390
Phone: 503-229-5696 or toll free in Oregon 1-800-452-4011
Oregon Telecommunications Relay Service: 1-800-735-2900  FAX: 503-229-6124

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is a regulatory agency authorized to protect Oregon's environment by
the State of Oregon and the Environmental Protection Agency.

DEQ Web site privacy notice