Hanford Nuclear Reservation: Almost a Dozen Workers Sick from Unknown Fumes

Chris Carrington
Activist Post

Hanford Nuclear Reservation is in the news once again, this time because of workers being sickened by unknown fumes from underground tanks. Hanford has been plagued by leaks from underground storage tanks holding nuclear waste. If the state of the sign is anything to go by, the rest of the facility is in urgent need of maintenance.

Suzanne Dahl who is the tank waste treatment manager for the State Department of Ecology was more forthright than the governor. She is recorded as saying:

It points to the age of the tanks and how there’s going to be an increased probability of this happening in the future. 

When waste is in the tanks, it’s manageable. Once it’s out of the tanks and in the soil, it’s much harder to manage it, remove it and down the road you’re adding to contamination in the groundwater that already exists.” (source)

The latest problems concern 11 workers who were overcome by toxic fumes while working underground at the reservation. All the workers have fallen ill over the last six days.

King 5 reports:

Sources who work in this area of Hanford tell KING it is unknown exactly what the employees ingested into their lungs, but that this is “extremely unusual” to have symptoms persist this long. 

The next batch of employees to get sick breathed in fumes today, Tuesday, March 25. Four WRPS employees breathed in vapors at 9:00 am and were immediately transported to a medical facility on the Hanford site, known as HPMC, the Hanford Occupational Health Services clinic. After that incident, the tank farm, identified as AY-AZ farm was evacuated, deemed a Vapor Control Zone. Between 20 and 30 people were working there at the time. 

Immediately afterward two employees from what’s known as the industrial hygiene department of WRPS, who monitor chemical exposures, were sent out to investigate and they too, had reactions to the fumes and were transported to the onsite medical facility. Those employees allegedly were not wearing protective devices such as respirators.

Sources tell KING 5 that three additional employees got sick from ingesting fumes later on Tuesday. These WRPS employees were working in a different portion of the tank farm complex, known as the S-SX Farm, located about 8 to 10 miles from the AY-AZ farm. That location was also deemed a Vapor Control Zone and was evacuated. Sources say two were transported to the hospital by ambulance and one was transported to the HPMC. 

“The place is falling apart and they (WRPS) aren’t doing anything to fix it,” said one employee. 

One of the victims told KING the symptoms were dissipating but still irritating. “I feel fine now but when you get chemical exposure, you have respiratory issues.” 

Several employees who spoke with the reporter Tuesday were upset that WRPS has yet to install additional monitoring equipment in the tank farm areas. There is monitoring equipment available that can detect chemical releases, but so far, none has been installed. 

“It’s BS,” said one worker. “We’ve expressed our opinion about it. We’ve said you haven’t taken the time to put in monitors and they say ‘It’s in the works’. Yet they keep sending us out to work. They’re not putting safety first.” 

A spokesperson for WRPS sent a statement to KING on Tuesday evening which stated the company does monitor for chemical releases. 

“Washington River Protection Solutions has a comprehensive industrial hygiene program that monitors chemical vapors in the tank farms and in recent years WRPS has taken a number of steps to reduce potential vapor exposures to its workers,” said Jerry Holloway, External Affairs Manager, WRPS. 

“They have some serious problems out there that they need to figure out,” said another worker. 

KING 5 placed calls to WRPS executives and to the US Dept. of Energy for comment, but those calls have not been returned.

There have also been serious issues at Carlsbad in New Mexico in the last couple of weeks. Radiation leaked from nuclear waste stored at the site, elevating the air radiation levels in a localized area.

Chris Carrington is a writer, researcher and lecturer with a background in science, technology and environmental studies. Chris is an editor for The Daily Sheeple, where this first appeared. Wake the flock up!

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