Because the Hanford Site sits along the Columbia River just 35 miles from Oregon's border, our priority is to ensure cleanup actions are protective of the river.
Forty years of plutonium production at Hanford created immense amounts of radioactive and contaminated waste. The most contaminated waste is stored in underground storage tanks
. Unfortunately, the groundwater at Hanford
also has contaminants, which could affect the river.
So what contaminants from Hanford have reached the river? Is it safe to swim in or eat fish from the river?
There are chemical contaminants in the river from Hanford and
from many other sources, such as farmers’ fields, paper mills, and other
industries, as well as radioactive materials from natural sources and from past
nuclear weapons tests. Small amounts of chemical and radioactive materials from
Hanford do enter the river, but are quickly diluted and generally not
detectable beyond the immediate area where they enter the river. Measured
concentrations consistently have been low, and no restrictions are in place for
use or recreation in the river as a result of Hanford.
A number of health and environmental organizations regularly
sample and test the Columbia River water and issue health advisories if there
are concerns. For example, in September 2013, the Oregon Public Health
Authority advised people to limit the amount of resident fish consumed that are
taken between Bonneville Dam and McNary Dam due to moderate levels of mercury
and PCBs (from sources other than Hanford). In August 2017, the Washington
State Department of Health issued a similar advisory from McNary Dam upstream to the
Interstate 90 bridge near Vantage, Washington. This area includes the entire
portion of the river that runs through the Hanford Site. However, this advisory
was also due to PCBs and mercury from sources other than Hanford.
More information on water quality within the river is available on the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency websites.