New Safety Precautions Launched at Hanford Facility

CH2M Hill Hanford, the contractor responsible for cleanup of the Department of Energy's Hanford nuclear weapons processing facility in Hanford, Wash., announced plans last month to conduct an exhaustive review of its health and safety practices following employee complaints of exposures to fumes and toxic materials.

The company now says it plans to take "a conservative approach" by putting any employee working in the tank farm on a respirator.

"The health and safety of our workers is our top priority and we have taken a number of steps over the last week to further strengthen our efforts in this area," said Dale Allen, CH2M HILL Hanford senior vice president.

He said the review is part of an ongoing multi-year effort to address vapor issues.

In addition, CH2M HILL Hanford has taken a number of additional steps to further strengthen its safety and health efforts while this review is in progress. These include:

  • Enhanced Personal Monitoring. "In an effort to build on the monitoring program we have in place, we are now field testing a range of new personal sampling devices," said Allen. The devices include air sampling pumps worn by employees taking new measurements every 15 minutes, 3M organic vapor monitors attached to the lapel of employees, and ammonia badges that change color to provide immediate indications of ammonia. "These devices are designed to both further expand CH2M HILL's overall monitoring capabilities but also provide individual employees greater assurance of ongoing, real-time monitoring for potential vapors," Allen added.
  • Expanding Breadth and Expertise of Industrial Hygiene Program. "The industrial hygiene program is an integral part of our operations at Hanford. To further strengthen the program and bring additional expertise to bear, we have created a new, senior-level position of environmental health director. We are in the process of recruiting a national expert to fill this position," said Allen.
  • Supplied Air Respirators for Employees. Allen said that as the company moved through its internal review process, one of the issued identified as warranting additional research relates to protection against nitrous oxide. "We have some questions about whether there are additional steps that could or should be taken to give employees a higher level of confidence on this issue," Allen admitted.

"Employees working near the single shell tanks or the non-ventilated double-shell tanks will be wearing forced air until we have answered our own questions and/or found some other suitable alternative," said Allen.

He explained that supplied air is being used because there is no commercially available respirator cartridge that filters nitrous oxide, and supplied air is the most appropriate alternative.

"It is important to understand that this move was not taken in response to a specific vapor exposure report, but rather a proactive step CH2M HILL is taking in an ongoing effort to err on the side of caution wherever possible. We also recognize that this particular move may represent an inconvenience to our workers, but we want to make sure safety comes first," he said.

For further background on the Hanford tank farms, see the article "Hanford: Is Fast Cleanup Endangering Workers?"

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