Bass Caught Near Old Corps Landfill
by Erik Robinson
It's a bad idea to eat smallmouth bass caught near a heavily polluted area of Columbia River shoreline just upstream of Bonneville Dam.
Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality and the Army Corps of Engineers this week revealed the sobering results of tissue samples taken from 19 bass caught by researchers in the area: The fish carried an average concentration of 3,000 parts per billion of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.
The concentrations are well above Oregon's health safety standard of 1 ppb.
Although public health officials are still reviewing the data, in the meantime they're referring fishermen and consumers to an advisory already issued for bass with similar levels of PCBs in Portland's notoriously polluted lower Willamette River.
It advises women of child-bearing age to avoid the fish, and others to limit bass consumption to no more than one 8-ounce meal per month.
The source of the pollution stems from an old landfill operated on Bradford Island between 1942 and 1982.
The Corps of Engineers, which operates the dam, maintains the landfill was mainly used for household garbage generated by corps employees who lived at the dam, but they said some waste from operating the dam apparently found its way into the landfill. In 1999, workers surveying the shoreline for groundwater seepage spotted three electrical capacitors poking out of the river.
Each capacitor contained between 10 and 12 gallons of oil heavily laden with PCBs.
The corps removed the items from the river in 2000 and 2002. Last fall, the corps hired a contractor for $1.9 million to send down divers who meticulously vacuumed PCB-laden soil from an area of river bottom a little smaller than an acre.
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