Draft report calls for study of Hanford plant, animal harm

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldDecember 4, 2012 

A multitude of possible studies to determine harm to plants, animals, land and water at Hanford are outlined in a new draft report.

The Hanford Natural Resource Trustee's Draft Injury Assessment Plan is an early step toward a legally required assessment of how hazardous chemicals and radionuclides have harmed natural resources at the nuclear reservation.

The trustees, who represent various governments, plan a meeting from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 12 to discuss the draft report and allow the public to ask questions and offer written comments. The meeting will be at the Richland Public Library's Gallery Room, 955 Northgate Drive.

After public input is collected, a final version of the report will be released and decisions will be made on how to prioritize and proceed with studies, taking into account cost. The studies would be paid for out of the DOE Hanford annual budget.

The proposed work includes looking at the extensive environmental monitoring already done at Hanford, where plutonium was produced for the nation's nuclear weapons program during World War II and the Cold War. But the trustees expect more studies to be needed to more thoroughly determine what harm occurred and the extent of the harm.

The trustees also will consider harm from current and past loss of use of resources, such as the decades that tribes have been prevented from gathering traditional native foods at Hanford.

Proposed studies include a look at Columbia river mussels, which provide food for animals and filter particulate matter, improving water quality. A previous study has found some abnormalities in mussels, and chromium, which is particularly toxic to aquatic life, is known to reach the river near some Hanford reactors.

Great Basin pocket mice, a burrowing animal, could be collected to check for evidence of harm to their livers from carbon tetrachloride, a soil contaminant in some Hanford areas.

Another study is proposed to look at whether contaminants influence where Chinook choose to spawn in the river. A survey of insect health is proposed to evaluate the extent to which their numbers have been affected by contaminated releases.

In addition, a study could target bird eggs, looking for organic contaminants in the yolk and metals in the shells.

A decision in 2007 opened the way for the current work on a natural resource assessment.

The states of Washington and Oregon and the Yakama, Nez Perce and Umatilla confederated tribes had filed a lawsuit in federal court over natural resource damage issues, including a demand that an assessment be done.

DOE had argued that it was too early in Hanford environmental cleanup to do a natural resource damage assessment, but agreed in spring 2007 to proceed.

Once Hanford cleanup is completed, federal Superfund law allows other governments, such as tribes and states to file claims against DOE if harm remains. The claims can be addressed with more restoration to return Hanford land and other natural resources to their pre-World War II condition, by replacing natural resources or by acquiring equivalent natural resources.

The trustees on the council represent the states of Oregon and Washington; the Yakama, Nez Perce and Umatilla confederated tribes; and the U.S. Departments of Energy, Interior and Commerce.

Written comments may be submitted through Dec. 31 to Larry Goldstein, Hanford Natural Resource Trustee Council chairman, Washington State Department of Ecology Nuclear Waste Program, P.O. Box 47600, Olympia, WA 98504.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com

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