For decades, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has treated the Columbia River’s Bradford Island shamefully. Just off Bonneville Dam, the Corps used Bradford Island for dumping, painting, sandblasting, pistol practice and other polluting activities from the 1940s into the 1980s, and dumped electrical equipment and even light bulbs into the mighty Columbia.
The toxic legacy left by these decades of poor stewardship is still abundant today, contaminating the river waters and the fish that swim in them. Although the Corps since the 1990s has been responsible for evaluating and cleaning up this mess, the process has been inexcusably slow.
In a letter last month, nine environmental advocacy nonprofits charge that the Corps has not conducted any cleanup since 2007, and that fish caught near the island “contain the highest levels of cancer-causing PCBs in the Northwest.” Lead, mercury, pesticides and petroleum byproducts also pollute the area.
Aside from dredging and removal of dumped transformers in 2007, the Corps has done little besides catalog the damage and requested no money in President Donald Trump’s 2020 budget to clean up this section of Washington’s signature river.
Better leadership must be put into place. If the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is unwilling to take seriously the need to clean up Bradford Island and get the contamination out of the nearby population of bass and clams, the task should be designated for Superfund cleanup.
Bradford Island has never been a Superfund site, but the EPA is still adding new pollution cleanup sites to that list even under Trump. Of the 1,335 sites listed nationally as Superfunds as of this month, Washington has 48. Because it straddles the Washington-Oregon border, Bradford Island would become Oregon’s 14th site. Assigning the job to the EPA would take the cleanup out of the hands of the Corps, the agency which dumped the toxic pollution and has shirked its duty to make things right.
There must be accountability for this failing. Governments of Washington, Oregon and the Yakama Nation wrote in a letter to the EPA in October that the “serious threat to human health and the environment” requires stronger intervention. It’s time to get serious about cleaning up Bradford Island and its stretch of the Columbia River. Corps officials said it “continues to work with state and tribal health agencies to inform area subsistence fishers and recreational anglers about the danger of eating fish that may be contaminated.”
Not good enough. That must not be the last feckless word on this historic neglect.