In Short

After decades of serving as a dump, Columbia River island designated Superfund site

By: - March 17, 2022 5:13 pm

Bonneville Dam and Bradford Island, where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dumped 32 tons of waste over 40 years. (Courtesy Oregon Department of Environmental Quality)

For 40 years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers illegally dumped trash as well as electrical equipment and other debris onto Bradford Island and into the Columbia River near Bonneville Dam, causing toxic chemicals to leach into the water and into fish.

Now, the federal Environmental Protection Agency will need to clean up after the Army Corps.

The decision follows a long campaign by the Yakama Nation, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the Washington Department of Ecology to get Superfund status for the area and to put it on the EPA’s National Priorities List.

Between 1942 and 1982, the Army Corps used the northeast corner of Bradford Island, near the Bonneville Dam at Cascade Locks, as a landfill. DEQ said the Corps never obtained permits to dump waste on the island or into the river.

In 2002, the Corps dredged 32 tons of waste from the site, which included electrical equipment, light bulbs, ballasts, broken glass, rubber tires, asbestos-laced building materials and mercury vapor lamps.

Within much of the old electrical equipment are toxic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, that have not only contaminated the water but been absorbed by fish in the area.

Consuming fish that have ingested PCBs is among the most common ways PCBs accumulate in human bodies. The toxins don’t break down easily and can, in large quantities, cause acne and rashes as well as liver damage, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

A safe level of PCBs for human consumption is less than 1 part per billion. Smallmouth bass near Bradford Island were found to have levels as high as 183,000 parts per billion, according to DEQ. 

The Oregon Health Authority and the Washington State Department of Health have “Do Not Eat” advisories for fish within a mile of the area. 

As a Superfund site, the EPA will use federal money for the cleanup. Bradford Island will be the state’s 14th Superfund site. Of them nine are currently being remedied. 

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Alex Baumhardt
Alex Baumhardt

Alex Baumhardt is a reporter for Oregon Capital Chronicle. She has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post.