Nukewatch Quarterly Fall 2015
Federal regulators failed to adequately protect crews involved in the decades-long cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State, leaving workers sickened by exposure to toxic vapors, the state said in a lawsuit filed on Sept. 2.
The 18-page complaint, filed in federal court in Spokane, cited more than 50 instances since January 2014 when workers were exposed to hazardous fumes at the sprawling World War II-era site along the Columbia River.
The main activity there now is removal of 56 million gallons of hazardous waste kept in 177 underground storage tanks, at least 66 of them with known leaks.
As a result of lax safety practices amid leaks and releases of toxic vapors in the vicinity of the tanks, workers have been continually put at risk and left ill from chemical exposure, the lawsuit said.
“Enough is enough. The health risks are real, and the state is taking action today to ensure the federal government protects these workers now and in the future,” State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said.
Watchdog group Hanford Challenge said it believes several hundred workers have received medical treatment or evaluation due to exposures over the last 10 years.
The state is seeking a legally enforceable agreement requiring all tank-area workers to wear respiratory protection, among other safety improvements.
Cleanup began at Hanford in 1989 and is projected to cost almost $115 billion by century’s end, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates.—Reuters, Sept. 3, 2015