Pollution patrol – children help clean up polluted river near Portland Oregon

Pollution patrol – children help clean up polluted river near Portland Oregon

Anna Mearns

This is a story about a special group of kids – and a special body of water near Portland, Oregon, called the Columbia Slough (SLEW). Last year, the kids used a boat (see photo), microscopes, and lots of kid power to check out the Slough and other nearby waters – and to try to get people to clean them up.

The Slough is like a slow, miniriver that flows into the Willamette River near Portland (see map below). It rains a lot in this West Coast city. And when it rains a whole lot, the sewers overflow. Then the filthy water flows into the Slough.

That could be causing a big problem. A lot of people living near the Slough catch fish there. They need those fish to feed their families.

The families include kids who go to George Middle School. These kids had read in school about the Slough, and they started to worry. Could the pollution be getting into the fish? And could people be getting poisoned by eating what they catch there? The kids decided to check out the pollution themselves.


Some scientists had already studied the Slough. But no one knew for sure how polluted the waters were or whether the fish in if were really unsafe to eat.

When the kids found out how little was known, they decided to write to the mayor of Portland. They asked her to give money for a study of the Slough and its fish. The mayor was interested in their letter. But she said there was no money for a study.

Then the kids learned about an upcoming meeting. Some local and state government people were getting together to talk about whether they should study the Slough. The kids decided to show up.

At that meeting, the kids asked if the water was safe for fishing and swimming. The government people said they didn’t know. They said someone would have to study the water to find out. So the kids encouraged them to do it.

Finally, the government people got some money to start a study. And they asked the kids to help!


To begin their study, government scientists went out on a boat with lots of equipment. And the kids followed them on a boat owned by a group called Riverwatch.

First the scientists put some of their equipment into the water. The equipment shocked the fish with a jolt of electricity. The shock left the fish stunned, but it didn’t hurt or kill them. It made the fish float to the top of the water, where they. were easy to scoop up.

Then the kids went to work. The scientists were looking for particular kinds of fish. The kids helped the scientists find just the right kinds.

One of the kids asked how to tell if a fish was good to eat. The scientists explained that one way to tell is to see if there are lots of little pests living on the fish’s gills. That would mean that the fish wasn’t very healthy. Then they passed the kids a carp to check out themselves.

The kids took the fish back to their school. They also took water samples to check out under a microscope. So the kids did a little study while the scientists did a big one! The kids found out that their fish didn’t have lots of little pests. But the scientists haven’t finished their big study yet.

The kids also helped the scientists find out how people in the area used the Slough – who fished there, what kinds of fish they caught, and how many fish each person ate.

The kids went to a grocery store and asked customers to fill out a questionnaire. At first, nobody wanted to fill it out. So the kids put out some candy. Then lots of people stopped for the questionnaire!

Finally, the kids gave the completed questionnaires to the scientists. The scientists said the kids helped them gather important information.


The more the kids learned about the different bodies of water in their area, the more they wanted to get involved. One student named Jesse Shields met a scientist who was studying salamanders near one of these bodies of water. Jesse went out with the scientist to look for the salamanders.

First they had to find the animals, so they put down lots of boards. (You can see one of the boards in the photo at right.) When they came back later and checked the boards, salamanders had crawled underneath them.

Later, some government people wanted to learn about wildlife in the area. Guess who talked to them? That’s right – Jesse!

All the kids were learning how important clean water and wild spaces are to wildlife in the area. They decided to tell their neighbors about it. They figured that if people knew about the neat wildlife nearby, they’d want to help it.

First, they made huge banners that said, “Nature in Your Neighborhood.” They also put pictures on the banners showing different animals that use the wild areas.

The kids strung these banners from light poles in their neighborhood. And they asked business owners to help them explain the banners to their customers. The business owners agreed.

Now the kids are waiting for the government study to be finished. The study should show just how much pollution is in the Slough. And the kids from George Middle School are staying involved. Why? They want to be sure their favorite waters get cleaned up!

COPYRIGHT 1994 National Wildlife Federation

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group