Bus tour highlights Portland's dirty underbelly and hopes for a sustainable future

As reported in The Oregonian by James Reddick:

Portlanders are proud of their city's environmental pedigree. But under the green veneer lies a legacy of pollution that continues to have an impact throughout the city.

In an unusual bus tour Sunday afternoon, nonprofits Groundwork Portland and Know Your City called attention to "The Dirty Side of Portland," where contaminants have made certain areas dangerous to the public's health.

Here are some of the takeaways from all three stops of the tour:

Portland Harbor Superfund at Cathedral Park

The first stop, under the majestic St. Johns Bridge in North Portland, is along an 11-mile stretch declared a superfund site in 2000. It runs along the Willamette River from the Fremont Bridge to Sauvie Island.

This was Portland's industrial heart for nearly a century. It was home to companies like Arkema, a pesticide manufacturer that dumped DDT, among other things, into the Willamette River.

"Back in the old days, everything was along the river because it was a great place to get rid of waste," said Rick Muza, an environmental scientist with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Cleaning up the site is a long process involving the EPA, Department of Environmental Quality, the city of Portland, Port of Portland and the many companies responsible for the pollution.

According to Muza, the parties involved will release a proposal in 2016 for how to remove and store the contamination. Once it is ready, the public will have an opportunity to give input.
The Dirty Side of Portland The Environmental Protection Agency's Rick Muza explains the dangers and cleanup process at the Portland Harbor superfund site during The Dirty Side of Portland Bus Tour.

Currently, the river is safe for recreational uses like swimming.

One overlooked aspect of the riverfront's pollution is its impact on low-income populations.

Resident fish like carp and bass are the carriers of leftover pollutants. According to Jim Robison, chair of the Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group, Southeast Asian immigrants often fish out of the Willamette River and then eat the contaminated fish.

"The biggest health risk from the river is in toxic accumulation in breast milk that is passed on from fish," Robison said. "We need to feel safe getting food out of the river."

Similarly, homeless people throughout the city sleep on potentially toxic land along the river and often rely on fish as a food source.

Read the full story at http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2014/08/bus_tour_highlights...