EPA Criticizes Clean-Up Study
by Amelia Templeton
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it will redo parts of a study exploring ways to clean-up the Portland Harbor Superfund site. The agency says an initial draft prepared by the Lower Willamette Group, a coalition of some of the companies responsible for the cleanup, was tilted to favor of a low-cost remediation strategy.
The Portland Harbor is one of the largest remaining Superfund sites in the Northwest, along with Seattle's Duwamish waterway. (This Guide gives a rundown of the players, the stakes, and the contaminants involved.)
The City of Portland and at least a dozen companies are working with the EPA and will help pay for the clean-up. They've spent about 100 million dollars so far on a study of the options.
The EPA says the feasibility study failed to identify hot spots of toxic waste, overstated the benefits of burying pollutants in the Willamette River under a new layer of sediment, and minimized the benefits of removing contaminants with dredging and other technologies.
Chip Humphrey manages the EPA's investigation of the Portland Harbor site. He says the study is supposed to give the EPA a path to develop a clean-up plan.
"We felt that the report that was prepared by the Lower Willamette Group was tilted too far toward natural recovery in terms of remedies, and didn't have enough of a balance in the analysis that it did on other clean-up options, " he says.
EPA Comments: Portland Harbor Superfund Site Feasibility Study by Barbara Smith is a spokeswoman for the Lower Willamette Group, a coalition of 14 parties involved in the clean-up. She says the report was 15,000 pages long, and the EPA found much of it sound.
"I think it's unfair to characterize the scientific work we've done as biased. I would say all of the alternatives create sort of a menu of options "and they all include dredging."
The EPA says it will take the clean-up strategies identified in the draft study, and conduct its own independent analysis of how they compare. Humphrey says the Superfund program generally relies on parties responsible for pollution to conduct studies and technical evaluations under EPA oversight. He says it's not usual for those initial studies to take an approach that favors lower cost, more hands off cleanup options.
"That's why we do the intensive overview and evaluation of our work, and have it modified to something we can accept," he says.
Humphrey and Smith both stressed that the EPA and Lower Willamette Group will work together to revise the study, and hope to begin remediation work as soon as possible.
The EPA hopes to have a cleanup plan for the Portland Harbor to present to the public for comment buy the first half of 2014.
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