WL performing "Nothing Anymore" at the Portland Harbor Superfund site.
As the economy of the US continues to rely more heavily on the global market, diverse and unpredictable effects will cascade through the social, political and ecological realms. These effects are the result of a complex social machinery that will ultimately be directed by both the virtues and the faults of our collective human nature. These scenarios are playing out in similar fashions, at different rates and at different points in the curve, all across the globe. Our perpetual struggle for resources can seem to define our relationship with the physical world; superseding our inherent sense of appreciation for it's beauty and qualifying the value we assign to it.
When industry travels to the worlds most profitable workforces it leaves a vacancy in the community it previously belonged to. The future of this vacated landscape is often challenged by many factors, including; contamination, isolation, historic impact on the surrounding neighborhood and stigmatization. Often times this landscape also has unique attributes that are of value; adjacency to a river or other body of water, large swaths of contiguous land within an urban context, preserved banks of native seed or pockets of native insects, birds or mammals.
The northeast side of the Willamette river, from the Broadway Bridge past St Johns to the Columbia Slough, is considered a high priority remediation area due to the heavy industrial legacy. This area is called the Portland Harbor Site, and it is on the National Priority List for the Superfund (a federal fund run by the EPA that is dedicated to cleaning up the most critical uncontrolled hazardous waste sites in the country). Due to the diversity of industry that operated on this stretch of river there are many types of contamination present, including; heavy metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), dioxins, and pesticides. All of which are harmful to human health. The EPA is currently initiating a study and public process to determine the best approach to remediating this large site, but this effort will take years and years, probably decades to actually complete.
In the meantime, natural processes are beginning to transition the site back into a healthier ecological balance. Carbon based contamination is degradable by native microbes which are likely colonizing areas where these pollutants are concentrated. Heavy metals are being washed out of the soil into the river and eventually to the ocean. Native and non-native plants are pioneering the site; breaking down asphalt and concrete while providing structure to the soil to help harbor beneficial bacteria. These plants are also uptaking metals and other non-degradable contamination and storing it in biomass. Finally, rainwater is continuously wearing down the physical structure of the site, eroding our best effort at physical permanence, diffusing and moving everything that was concentrated into some larger system.
We find this process fascinating and feel drawn to observe it's workings. Maybe because it shows natures superior hand in these matters and offers some universal assurance that there is an ineffable will towards resolution and balance.
- Michael Yun, WL
• Directed by Chris Cantino • Edited by Rodrigo Melgarejo • Camera by Chris Cantino, Rodrigo Melgarejo, Steve Wyshywaniuk, Josiah Marshall, and Anna Alek • Audio by Mike Elliott and Miliken Gardner • Words by Michael Yun of WL
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