NPR Story
6:31 pm
Tue March 25, 2014

Hanford Fumes Lead Some Workers To Seek Medical Attention

Some workers from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation’s tank farms were transported to a Richland hospital Tuesday morning.

Many employees have been complaining of feeling ill after smelling chemical vapors this week.

Hanford is home to large underground tanks grouped into herds called “farms.” They contain a toxic brew of 56 million gallons of radioactive sludge and industrial chemicals -- the leftovers from plutonium production during WWII and the Cold War.

This past week, several batches of workers have complained of smelling vapors during their normal operations. Some of them were examined at Hanford’s own medical center. But two sickened workers were sent to Richland’s hospital and released later.

Washington River Protection Solutions, the company that employs these tank farm workers, acknowledges that Hanford tanks do generate vapors that are vented into the air. The company says it has safety procedures in place and is monitoring the vapors in the farms.

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Full Washington River Protection Solutions statement:

There have been several incidents in the past week where Hanford workers have smelled chemical vapors in the tank farms. In each of these instances, workers responded in accordance with procedures and training to limit exposure.

This morning, two workers were transported to Kadlec Hospital in Richland after complaining of coughing and throat irritation after smelling vapors in one of Hanford’s tank farms. Workers in the farm exited the area and moved upwind.

The two workers were examined and released from the hospital and returned to work. Seven additional workers elected to go to the Hanford site medical provider, HPMC Occupational Medical Services, where they were examined and released.

Last Wednesday two workers were checked at HPMC after smelling chemical vapors and were returned to work.

Hanford’s underground waste tanks are vented to the atmosphere. Chemicals contained in the waste generate vapors. 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.

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