Safer Fishing on the Lower Willamette River

The Multnomah County Health Department is cautioning communities to avoid the consumption of contaminated fish and shellfish from the Lower Willamette River. 

The stretch of river between Kelley Point Park and the Sellwood Bridge as well as the Multnomah Channel to the Sauvie Island Bridge has been contaminated from decades of industrial use and is now an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund site.

While cleanup of the area continues, the Health Department wants to make sure the community, especially the Black, Chinese and Russian/Slavic communities who have strong cultural ties to fishing as recreation and as a food source, are aware of the danger. Site cleanup is expected to last at least another 13 years.

The contaminants from decades of industrial use have settled into the riverbed and are harmful to people and the environment. The pesticides, PCBs, PAHs and dioxins/furans can cause lifelong health issues for those eating contaminated fish and shellfish, including reduced IQ; liver, thyroid and immune system issues; low birthweight; and an increased chance of diabetes and heart disease.

Fish that live their whole lives in the Lower Willamette (carp, catfish, bass, crappies and clams) should not be eaten. Even though they may not look or act sick, they are contaminated. For safer carp fishing, consider Salish Ponds in Fairview, Bethany Ponds in Hillsboro, or Commonwealth Lake in the Cedar Hills neighborhood.  

Since contaminants are in the river bed and not the water, most of the time it is safe to swim in the river. The DEQ and City of Portland regularly test the water for bacteria and harmful algae blooms, with alerts issued if and when levels become unsafe. 

Short videos for safer fishing in English, Russian and Chinese, produced in conjunction with the Human Access Project, can be found on Multnomah County’s YouTube page, youtube.com/user/MultcoHealthPresents/videos.

Safer Fishing on the Lower Willamette River

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