The Willamette River is a Sewer...No, Really!

The Willamette River flows through Portland and many other areas of Oregon. To many humans, it is a swimming and fishing hole, our version of the beach. To wildlife, it is home. Many animals use this river for food, shelter, and drinking water. But, the Willamette has a dark secret.

This river is one of the most polluted flowing bodies of water in the country. In 1906, it was commonly known as "A common sewer for the whole valley". Industrial paper and pulp mills were dumping all of their waste into this river for almost a century. It was only until 2000 that the EPA deemed this river a national priority site for toxic waste removal. It was so bad at this point that other bodies of water were becoming polluted where they met the Willamette's stream.

During the cleanup started in 2000, 65 harmful or deadly chemicals were discovered in the river. Some of the more known pollutants included lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury, and asbestos. Fortunately, the EPA was able to take action and invested $100 million dollars in the toxin removal project. Although it isn't perfect, the Willamette has undergone a massive improvement from the sewer site that it once was. My advice? Don't swim in it.