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The industrial companies say a sampling survey they commissioned in 2018 shows the harbor is cleaner than earlier EPA data.

COURTESY EPA - A recent EPA map of the Portland Harbor Superfund Site cleanup planning progress.Four large industrial companies in the Portland Harbor have asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce the scope of its Superfund cleanup plan.

The companies sent a letter and petition to the EPA on March 9 saying the plan was based on outdated information about pollution levels in the harbor. The letter said a 2018 sampling survey of the harbor they commissioned shows it is much cleaner than the EPA's data, most of which was collected in 2004.

The Portland Harbor Superfund Site cleanup plan approved by the EPA in 2016. It is estimated to cost up to $3 billion and could take as long as 20 years to complete. The four companies are Evraz Inc., Gunderson LLC, Schnitzer Steel Industries and Vigor Industrial LLC.PMG FILE PHOTO - The Willamette River and downtown Portland. A stretch of the river has been deemed a federal superfund cleanup site.

The letter and petition claim that pollution-control requirements overseen by the EPA and the State of Oregon, together with in-water mitigation work and the natural flow of the river, have substantially reduced the contamination in the Portland Harbor Superfund Site over the past few decades.

"Given the new data, EPA has the opportunity to ensure that the remedy is based on actual site conditions. If EPA fails to update the remedy based on the comprehensive new site data, it will be acting in an arbitrary and capricious manner that would undermine prospects for a successful remedy and cause substantial financial waste and disruption to the community for decades to come," reads the letter from the companies, which call themselves the Portland Harbor Pre-Remedial Design Group (Pre-RD Group).

The EPA authorized the companies to commission the 2018 sampling survey. The submitted a Pre-Remedial Design Investigation Evaluation Report to the EPA in June 2019. Among other things, it concluded the harbor is already cleaner than the EPA says.

"The … data and analyses show that site conditions have improved substantially since the last comprehensive sampling was performed in 2004. Substantial risk reduction has already occurred, and fish consumption risks are at or below EPA's interim targets for recreational fishers and subsistence fishers," the report said.

After receiving it, the EPA posted a statement in its website saying the data was "generally acceptable" but does not justify revisiting the cleanup plan, formally called the Record of Decision.

"EPA finds the data collected by the Pre-RD Group to be of suitable quality and generally acceptable. EPA intends to fully utilize this new, comprehensive data set as we work to move the entire harbor into design this year and start construction of the final cleanup. However, EPA does not agree that the data or the Pre-RD Group's analysis support many of the conclusions presented in the PDI Evaluation Report," the government statement said.

It is unclear whether the EPA must respond to the letter and petition.

"We are currently reviewing the petition and have no further comment at this time. We remain committed to moving forward with remedial design at the site and are encouraged by the progress made so far," a EPA spokesperson told the Portland Tribune.

Ironically, the letter and petition was sent on the same day the EPA announced that more than a dozen other companies in the harbor have agreed to begin preparing remedial cleanup plans for their properties. According to the announcement, plans are being prepared for over half of the acres in the Superfund Site, which consists of 10 miles of the Willamette River in Portland.

Much of the work is being supported by a $24 million EPA trust fund created by the state of Oregon and the city of Portland to help pay for the remedial cleanup plans.

"The eight recently signed agreements account for over half the acres designated for active remediation in EPA's cleanup plan. The cleanup design for these areas will begin soon under those agreements," the EPA spokesperson said.

You can read a previous Portland Tribune story on the issue here.


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