Exposure to harmful vapors and nuclear waste is an everyday occurrence for employees stationed at the Hanford Reservation in Washington.
State lawmakers are calling for United States Department of Energy (DOE) workers, contractors and subcontractors to be protected and treated for certain occupational diseases directly attributed to working with radioactive material and toxic substances.
The legislation, HB 1723, compiles a list of illnesses that would automatically be covered with the presumption that they were developed as a result of the occupation including respiratory diseases, heart problems, cancers including leukemia, bone, lung, thyroid, breast, esophagus and stomach and neurological issues such as occupational dementia.
The Hanford Site, located less than three hours from Seattle, is the largest decommissioned and contaminated nuclear site in the United States. During the Cold War, the 560-acre site was utilized for plutonium manufacturing.
Even though it was the last reactor was shut down in 1971 the DOE, who has been managing the site since 1977, has workers on site to cleanup and maintain toxic waste due to corroding reactors. Since then, numerous news outlets have reported widespread concern of contamination leaking to underground reservoirs.
Worker safety has been an ongoing matter. Numerous employees have come forward to complain of respiratory illnesses over the years.
In 2014, OSHA ordered Washington River Protection Solutions to pay $220,000 in back wages an reinstate an environmental specialist after the employee voiced concerns about the environmental and nuclear state of the Hanford Site.
“I’m still waiting for an answer to my question: How many Washington workers need to get sick before the federal government solves this problem?” Washington Attorney General Bob Furgeson said in a 2016 public statement. ““If the Department of Energy and its contractors won’t respond, an answer is going to come from a federal judge.”
Furgeson, along with Hanford Challenge and the pipefitters union UA Local 298 filed a lawsuit against the DOE in Sept. 2015 claiming onsite workers have been exposed to toxic vapors for decades, resulting in widespread respiratory illness.
In Nov. 2016, a judge ruled employees currently have enough protection with supplied air. However, the measure is voluntary under an agreement. A permanent solution to protect workers from exposure still is being sought.
According to KING5, a hearing could take place this week.