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After Superfund Listing, Hard Work of Columbia River Site Cleanup Starts


Thursday, September 29, 2022   

A popular fishing site on the Columbia River for members of the Yakama Nation has been listed as Superfund site by the federal government.

Now comes the hard part.

Toxins near Bonneville Dam at a place called Bradford Island prompted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to put the area on the National Priority List in March.

Laura Klasner Shira, environmental engineer for Yakama Nation Fisheries, said the area near Bradford Island is a toxic soup for resident fish, with chemicals like PCBs among the most hazardous.

"The take-home when you start to look at all the individual effects of each of these chemicals or chemical groups is that it really affects multiple systems, it affects multiple organs, it can cause cancer," Shira outlined. "It's especially harmful to small children, fetuses and immune and thyroid-compromised persons."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dumped electronics near the island for decades, leading to the current toxic situation. People are advised not to eat nonmigratory fish up to a mile from the dam. Today at noon, Columbia Riverkeeper is hosting a webinar, featuring Shira and speakers from the EPA and the Corps of Engineers, on what Bradford Island's Superfund listing means for the region.

Shira pointed out the Yakama Nation took the lead in calling for Bradford Island to be placed on the National Priority List with the states of Oregon and Washington backing up those calls.

"It was very important to have NPL listing because we thought it could lead to a more protective cleanup," Shira explained. "But we also realized that with NPL listing, it's going to require a lot of work still."

Shira stressed despite their leadership, the Yakama Nation has been cut out of recent discussions on cleanup. The Corps of Engineers said the process has to go through regulators first, including the states, the EPA and Corps, but is inviting the public to be involved later. She added it is discouraging because it is an ancestral site for tribal members, where fishing has gone on since time immemorial.

Shira also noted fishing continues there, making cleanup a pressing issue.

"A lot of members aren't going to change their diets because of a fish advisory," Shira asserted, "Or they might accidentally catch a resident fish and their culture teaches them that every fish is a gift from the creator."

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