Gleeson, G.W. “A Sanitary Survey of the Willamette River From the Sellwood Bridge to the Columbia River.” Oregon State Engineering Experiment Station Bulletin Series No. 6 (1936): 5-32.


Gleeson, G.W. and F. Merryfield. “Industrial and Domestic Wastes of the Willamette Valley.” Oregon State Engineering Experiment Station Bulletin Series No. 7 (1936): 5-63. (Reviewed by Michael O'Leary)

Established by the Oregon Agricultural College (now known as Oregon State University) Board of Regents in 1927, the Engineering Experiment Station was created to produce and disseminate scientific research for the public benefit of Oregonians. Volumes six and seven of its Bulletin Series serve, respectively, as a detailed analysis of the river's pollution throughout the Portland metropolitan area and an assessment of the major causes of the river's pollution.

Volume six is a scientific study of the Willamette's pollution levels that links public health with the health of the river. Based in part upon new data collected in 1935, it reports the river's oxygen content, pH, temperature, bacteria count, E. coli index, solid waste density, and the rate of the river's flow at multiple sites throughout the Portland metropolitan area. Its results note that the river's health has declined since the 1929 study published in volume two, that the last eight miles of the river have too little oxygen to support “sensitive” forms of fish, that in fact the last three miles of the river carries no oxygen whatsoever, and that mats of toxic sludge is accumulating in deposits along the river bottom.

Volume seven focuses on explorations of the causes of the river's pollution primarily through the lens of Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD). Part one summarized the 1933 report of Governor Meier's technical committee that analyzed the production of waste resulting from pulp and paper production, identifying the resulting by-product of sulfite liquor as the industry's key BOD being dumped into the river and quantifying the total BOD resulting from pulp and paper production as effectively equating half of the river's total BOD. Part two is a collection of testing results that account for the BOD on the river resulting from a number of heavy polluters including agriculture, the animal product industry, and domestic wastewater discharges. Part three contributes the results of a new study on the merit of utilizing aeration processes to reduce the BOD of liquid sulfite.


Despite the unambiguous data regarding the river's polluted state, the authors of volumes six and seven go out of their way to suggest that the regulation of industrial polluters is neither necessary nor advisable and direct the readers' attention elsewhere. Volume six unabashedly promotes “cooperative” efforts within “the bounds of economic feasibility” while chiding that “prohibitory legislation has never provided a solution to the many problems of stream pollution.” Despite volume seven's notation of the demonstrated benefit of treating sulfite liquor to reduce BOD through the treatment processes already voluntarily in effect in Wisconsin's pulp and paper industry, its authors inexplicably threaten that mandating such alleviation measures in Oregon's pulp and paper industry “would possibly break the market for such a commodity.” Incorporating such politically charged and unsubstantiated opinions into these ostensibly scientific publications calls the objectivity of the researchers into question and exhibits the mind-set that for decades allowed the pollution on the Willamette to go unchecked.

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