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Portland Harbor Superfund Site

The Portland Harbor Superfund Site includes a portion of the Lower Willamette River and some surrounding upland areas, extending roughly from the Fremont Bridge to Sauvie Island in Portland, Oregon ( see map:PortlandHarborMap.jpg). This area was contaminated from decades of industrial use along the Willamette River.

The Oregon Health Authority's Environmental Health Assessment Program (EHAP) is collaborating with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Multnomah County Health Department, City of Portland, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to advise on health risks associated with this site.

EPA has conducted a risk assessment and EHAP has conducted a public health assessment for the Portland Harbor Superfund Site. Both assessments concluded that consuming resident fish poses the greatest health risks related to the Portland Harbor Superfund Site.

The table below summarizes the risks associated with the Portland Harbor Superfund Site:

Table 4.PNG
Visit the sections below to learn more about EPA's risk assessment and EHAP's public health assessment.

Portland Harbor Fish Advisory

Eating fish is good for you! However, some fish and shellfish in the Lower Willamette River contain harmful substances that make them unsafe to eat.

You should not eat carp, catfish, bass, or clams since these species live their whole lives in the Lower Willamette and are highly exposed to contaminants in the riverbed. Salmon, steelhead, and shad are safe because they spend only a small proportion of their lives in the Lower Willamette River.

If you decided to eat fish from the Lower Willamette River, choose smaller, younger fish and eat in small amounts. A meal is about the size and thickness of your hand. Throw away the head, tail, skin, bone, guts and fat before eating to reduce your exposure to harmful substances.

Visit OHA's Lower Willamette River Fish Advisory webpage or summary fact sheet to learn more about the Lower Willamette River fish advisory. Multnomah County Health Department has additional information on their website.

Recreating at Portland Harbor

EPA's risk assessment and EHAP's public health assessment both concluded that consuming resident fish poses the greatest health risks related to the Portland Harbor Superfund Site. The health risks identified through these assessments represent most areas within the entire Portland Harbor Superfund Site, including Cathedral Park, a high-use area within Portland Harbor.

ViewEPA's risk assessment orEHAP's public health assessment.


Swimming in the Lower Willamette River

The contamination associated with the Portland Harbor Superfund Site is tightly bound to the sediment (mud) at the bottom of the river and in the resident fish (species that do not migrate). Contamination levels in the water are too low to harm health.

Since the City of Portland's Big Pipe project was completed in 2011, combined sewage overflows are rare and occur only at times of year with prolonged periods of heavy rain, when fewer people would be expected to swim. The City of Portland monitors bacteria levels in the water and results are available on their website.

Swimmers should still take normal precautions applicable to swimming in any body of water with currents, boat traffic, and other physical hazards.


Accessing Portland Harbor Beaches

Most beaches in Portland Harbor pose little risk to recreational beach users related to chemical contamination. Important exceptions are:

  1. The former GASCO beach, which contains high concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Visit the Public Health Assessment section below to learn more about the former GASCO beach.
  2. Willamette Cove, which contains high levels of dioxins and other contaminants. Review OHA's Willamette Cove webpage or summary fact sheet to learn more about EHAP's health consultation for the East Parcel Beach portion of Willamette Cove, completed in 2013.
No one should play or access the beaches or shoreline around the former GASCO beach and Willamette Cove area.

The following beaches may be especially good choices for beach and river access because they have been cleared of physical hazards and debris:

  1. Audrey McCall Beach, located on the east bank of the Lower Willamette River just south of the Hawthorne Bridge
  2. Poet's Beach, located on the west bank of the Lower Willamette River under Marquam Bridge

Investigation and Cleanup

The Superfund process determined that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will jointly manage the investigation and cleanup of the Portland Harbor Superfund Site:

  • EPA is the lead agency for the in-water portion of the site
  • DEQ is the lead agency for the upland sources of contamination
EPA completed a risk assessment for the Portland Harbor Superfund Site by evaluating the ways people may come into contact with contaminants at Portland Harbor, and the estimated amount of exposure to contaminants. A fact sheet explaining this report is available online.

EHAP's Public Health Assessment process was similar to EPA's risk assessment process. EHAP will continue to educate the local community on how to reduce or prevent exposures for both in-water and upland portions of the site. Other programs within OHA will also continue to update the fish consumption advisory for the Lower Willamette River as conditions change in the Superfund Site with clean-up activities.

Visit EPA and DEQ's websites for current information about investigation and cleanup activities at the Portland Harbor Superfund Site.

EHAP's Public Health Assessment

EHAP completed a Public Health Assessment (PHA) in 2011 that addressed potential health risks associated with recreational use of the Portland Harbor Superfund Site. PHAs review available information about contaminants found at a site and determine whether exposures might harm people. They also document community concerns and review health outcome data where available. The final report incorporated public comments that were received during the comment period.

View the final Public Health Assessment or view the shorter summary.


Public Comments Impacted the Public Health Assessment

As a result of public comment, an additional conclusion was added to the report, identifying the former GASCO site beach as a potential cancer risk for those who might recreate there. View a map of sampling locations. This is due to high levels of a class of chemicals known as Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs). Originally, EHAP didn't consider the former GASCO beach a "recreational" beach, as it is not a desirable location for recreation, and has fencing all around it. However, a member of the public pointed out that this beach could be accessed from the water and should therefore be included as a potential recreational beach.


Conclusions from the 2011 PHA Represent Current Health Risks

PHAs are based on environmental sampling data collected by environmental agencies like EPA and DEQ. Newer environmental sampling results are not significants different from the sampling data that EHAP used in their 2011 recreational use PHA. Therefore, there is no reason to think that the conclusions in the PHA would change based on newer environmental sampling data.

EHAP has received questions and request from community members to conduct a health study for residents near the Portland Harbor Superfund Site. EHAP developed an infographic in collaboration with Oregon State University to help describe the challenges associated with conducting a health study and the differences between a public health assessment and a health study.

View the Assessing Exposure, Evaluating Health Infographic

For more information about public health assessments, contact EHAP at ehap.info@state.or.us or visit www.healthoregon.org/ehap.


EHAP's Health Consultation for Willamette Cove

Government agency partners conducted more sampling within the Portland Harbor Superfund Site for additional evaluation and cleanup activities after EHAP completed the 2011 public health assessment. As more data became available to assess, EHAP issued follow-up reports on specific locations.

Data collected between 2001 and 2010 from the East Parcel Beach of Willamette Cove was brought to EHAP's attention by DEQ. Willamette Cove sits within the Portland Harbor Superfund Site, and is an area where bird watchers, dog walkers, teenagers, college students, and transient populations frequent. DEQ asked EHAP to analyze the new data and report out on the findings. 

The final Health Consultation focused specifically on the East Parcel Beach at Willamette Cove was released in April 2013, along with a summary fact sheet. Metro posted signs to warn the public of chemical contamination, as well as posting more Portland Harbor fish advisory signs (updated in March 2018).


Public Communications & Engagement

EHAP engaged community members throughout the Portland Harbor public health assessment and Willamette Cove East Parcel Beach health consultation processes:

  • August 8, 2012: EHAP presented the findings of the Willamette Cove East Parcel Beach health consultation at the Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group meeting  
  • September 14, 2011: EHAP presented the latest conclusions from the final version of the recreational use public health assessment, as well as information about new data received on Willamette Cove, at the Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group meeting
  • May 20 - July 5, 2010: EHAP gathered public comments on the Recreational User PHA; comments were incorporated into the final version of the report, released September 12, 2011
  • June 9, 2010: EHAP presented the initial findings of the Recreational Use public health assessment
Since June, 2018, EPA has hosted a quarterly Portland Harbor Superfund Site Public Forum with support from the Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group. The pupose of the Public Forum is for government agencies and Potentially Responsible Parties to meet with memebers of the public to share updates and answer questions about the Portland Harbor Superfund Site. Visit EPA's website for more information about these quarterly events.

EHAP staff attend these meetings and are available to answer your health questions. You can also contact EHAP any time by:


Educational Materials


EHAP Reports: In-Water Activities

  • Willamette Cove East Parcel Beach Health Consultation
    Read the report 
  • Recreational Use PHA
    The Oregon Health Authority, Environmental Health Assessment Program (EHAP) finalized a health assessment to characterize health risks for people who recreate in the Portland Harbor area. View the final Public Health Assessment.
    (The public comment version of this report was released on May 20, 2010. EHAP collected public comments through July 5, 2010.)
  • Fish Consumption PHA
    EHAP evaluated the health risk of consuming fish from the Portland Harbor. The final Public Health Assessment (PHA)  of the report that discusses EHAP's findings was released in March, 2006. This document analyzed data on contaminant levels in fish tissue. Read more about it in the Portland Harbor PHA Summary Fact Sheet. See the listing of fish advisories for the state of Oregon.
  • Initial PHA
    In January 2002, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) evaluated the public health significance of the in-water contamination of the Portland Harbor and wrote an Initial Public Health Assessment (PHA). ATSDR concluded that the consumption of contaminated fish is the main way that people can be exposed to the Portland Harbor site contaminants.

EHAP Reports: Upland Activities

  • Willamette Cove Physical Hazards
    EHAP investigated the public health significance of physical hazards at the upland site known as Willamette Cove. A Final Report for Willamette Cove was released in July 2003.
  • McCormick and Baxter Creosoting Company Public Health Assessment
    Within the current Portland Harbor Superfund site boundaries, the McCormick and Baxter Creosoting Company is a separate and distinct superfund site. ATSDR evaluated the public health risks of this site's contaminants, which include creosote and other wood-treating chemicals, and wrote a Public Health Assessment in June 1995.

Portland Harbor Collaborating Organizations


Related Information

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