The Hanford nuclear site – called “the most contaminated workplace in America” -- has made hundreds of workers sick from chemical vapors, including 38 in just the past few months. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has the authority under existing environmental laws to act to protect Hanford workers from toxic exposure, and he needs to hear from us to make the right decision
The Hanford nuclear site made the plutonium for the Nagasaki bomb and subsequently for the US arsenal of tens of thousands of nuclear weapons during the Cold War. The site is a toxic and radioactive disaster area, and workers there are exposed to radioactive, chemical and other hazards on a daily basis.
Yet Hanford, a federal facility run by the US Department of Energy, has exempted itself from worker safety oversight and has failed to offer meaningful protections to workers, as required by their own regulations. This is especially true when it comes to exposure to chemical vapors that emanate from Hanford’s 177 million gallon underground radioactive waste tanks. Workers have little to no protection from inhaling these vapors, and many have suffered permanent, long-term injuries, illnesses, and death from such exposures.
It is time that Hanford workers receive protection. The State of Washington has legal authority to require polluters to protect workers who work around and with hazardous and toxic materials. If enough people sign this petition, we can end the cycle of neglect and illness by putting pressure on the Washington State Attorney General’s office to use existing authority under federal and state hazardous waste laws to regulate health and safety conditions at Hanford when it comes to chemical vapor exposure.
For more information, go to hanfordchallenge.org and click on Vapors! KING 5 TV has also produced a Peabody Award winning investigative series entitled “Hanford’s Dirty Secrets” that interviews workers, doctors and experts, revealing a shocking and unfolding scandal at Hanford. You can view that series here.
It involves the 30-year failure of the Department of Energy (DOE) and contractors at Hanford to afford adequate protection of workers from exposure to chemicals, especially their vapors. This is a situation that has come under scrutiny by the DOE, independent experts, and my organization, since the late 1980’s.
Despite the many studies that have recommended Hanford bring an engineered solution approach to removing the vapors from the breathing environment of workers, Hanford management has failed to act to protect workers who experience symptoms such as headache, nausea, nosebleeds, sweating, and coughing. There are documented cases of workers suffering permanent long-term disability, brain damage, loss of lung capacity and death as a result of exposure to chemical vapors at Hanford.
There are hundreds of chemicals present in Hanford tanks that routinely emit chemical vapors to the environment. It cannot be predicted when a tank might vent and a worker exposed.
The State of Washington needs to take action to require officials at Hanford to (1) put workers on supplied air (SCBA) respiratory protection whenever tank waste is being disturbed, whenever a tank is opened to the atmosphere, and whenever atmospheric conditions require it, (2) require Hanford to implement chemical scrubbers to remove the chemicals from the vapors before workers breathe in the fumes; (3) direct Hanford to stop fighting worker claims for compensation from vapor exposure, or to put in a fairer and more accessible system.
Thank you taking the time to consider this letter, and I hope to hear from you soon that the State will be taking steps to protect Hanford workers as they perform important cleanup work at the Hanford nuclear site.