Columbia Clam Cleanup Delayed
by Eric Robinson
The Columbian, February 6, 2008
An industrial-strength clam dig will have to wait until November.
PCB-tainted clams will be scooped from a heavily polluted stretch of Columbia River shoreline near the defunct Alcoa aluminum smelter in Vancouver.
The clam dig was to have taken place by February, under a timeline proposed by state regulators three months ago. A contractor for Alcoa said the clams are ensconced a foot beneath the river bottom in 15 feet of water, making it necessary to use a bucket dredge to haul them up. That requires a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.
"We can't just wade out there with a rake," said Rebecca Desrosiers, project manager for Anchor Environmental in Seattle.
The state had been aware since 1997 that the shoreline was polluted with polychlorinated biphenyls, but had yet to force a cleanup of the suspected carcinogen. After researchers last year revealed alarmingly high levels of PCBs in clams in the area, Gov. Chris Gregoire ordered the state Department of Ecology to accelerate the cleanup.
State officials plan to release a cleanup analysis for public review in March, followed by a formal cleanup agreement with Alcoa in May.
"We are on track to be where we need to be to have a November cleanup start," Ecology spokeswoman Kim Schmanke said. "That's exciting for us. We really want to honor the public's interest in getting this cleaned up."
The clam collection is intended to minimize the risk of anyone harvesting and eating the common Asian bivalve, or allowing them to be consumed by other aquatic life. PCBs concentrate in long-lived creatures at the top of the food chain, such as sturgeon.
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