Washington state seeks to protect nuclear site workers

Posted October 12

— Washington state asked a federal judge Wednesday to issue an injunction requiring the U.S. Department of Energy and its contractor to take steps to protect workers at a major nuclear waste storage site.

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson says more than 50 workers at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation have been exposed to toxic vapors and the "culture of indifference to worker safety must end."

From January through July, Hanford workers reported suspicious smells or symptoms that indicate exposure to chemical vapors, according to The Tri-City Herald. ( )

U.S. District Chief Judge Thomas Rice in Spokane heard arguments on the safety issue and the federal agency's motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Rice said he would rule at a later date.

Lawyers for the Energy Department have argued in motions that the state lacks standing to bring the lawsuit. Hanford Challenge, an advocacy group, and the United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union 598 are also plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The agency has said the plaintiffs in the case have not shown harm to Hanford workers from vapors. It has argued that symptoms like headaches are common and don't necessarily indicate exposure to vapors.

The state called that claim astounding.

The trial for the case is set for Sept. 18, 2017, but Ferguson said workers can't wait that long to have a safe workplace.

The injunction would force the agency and its contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions, to provide supplied air for all workers within certain areas. The state also seeks the installation of additional monitoring and alarm equipment to warn workers when toxic vapors are being emitted.

Hanford's 177 underground storage tanks contain more than 50 million gallons of toxic waste, the byproducts of decades of plutonium production, Ferguson said in a statement. Over a few days in late April and May, at least 48 workers were exposed to vapors from the tanks, and more were exposed in June.

The longterm effects are not known, he said.


Please with your account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all