S.C. national lab to lead review of Hanford tank vapors

Tri-City HeraldApril 25, 2014 

Work underway at the Hanford tank farms.


— The Savannah River National Laboratory in South Carolina will lead an independent review of chemical vapors and worker protection at the Hanford nuclear reservation’s tank farms.

Washington River Protection Solutions asked the national lab to do the third independent study of tank vapors in recent years, providing a broader analysis and recommendations than technical reviews in 2008 and 2010.

The expanded scope is expected to be determined after previous studies are reviewed. Previous studies were organized through the Hanford Concerns Council.

“SRNL’s role is to ensure that the best experts are brought in and given full latitude to ask hard questions and make their recommendations,” said Terry Michalske, the national lab’s director.

DOE said it supported the review and has encouraged Washington River Protection Solutions to explore a range of alternatives to resolve tank vapor concerns.

The independent review comes after more than two dozen workers received medical attention this spring following apparent exposure to chemical vapors from Hanford’s underground waste tanks.

Chemical vapors that vent from underground tanks and have the potential to make workers ill have been a concern for two decades.

A number of steps to protect worker safety have been taken in recent years, but the latest set of exposures shows that more work needs to be done, said Dave Olson, president of Washington River Protection Solutions, the Hanford tank farm contractor.

“This new review, with its broad scope and the involvement of recognized experts, will make a difference in protecting Hanford workers from future chemical vapor exposures,” he said.

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board staff reported in its most recently released weekly report that incidents in the A Tanks complex and the S Tank Farm appear to be the result of tank vapors. But an incident at the T Tank Farm appears to be the result of nearby herbicide spraying, according to the report.

Among other work, the panel will look at the technology used to provide protection against inhalation and other contact with tank vapors and additional technology that might be available.

Kevin Smith, manager of the DOE Hanford Office of River Protection, has said that he is interested in newly available technology that can test the personal breathing space of individual workers for vapors. Now, when vapors are smelled and industrial hygienists then try to detect them, the fumes often have already dispersed into the air.

The independent team also will look at the four years of data gathered as part of the tank farm industrial hygiene program since the last independent review and the actions that resulted. It will examine the adequacy of present policies, protections and responses to potential vapor exposures.

It also will look at how to improve data collection and analysis to develop ways to protect the overall work force and individual workers and to evaluate their health.

Washington River Protection Solutions continues to address tank vapor issues as it waits for the independent recommendations.

Workers in the A Tanks complex have been wearing respirators since early this month.

A team of the contractor’s engineers has been assembled to look for potential improvements, starting with the A Tanks complex. It will provide a new assessment of sources for vapor releases, how vapors disperse and equipment options such as taller vent stacks, portable exhausters and filters.

The reorganized Chemical Vapors Solutions Team met this week, with Mission Support Alliance and CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. sending members to the team.

In addition, staff from the Hanford Site medical provider, HPMC Occupational Medical Services, met with some tank farm workers this week to discuss its practices related to tank vapor incidents. Several actions were identified to address worker concerns, Olson told employees in a memo.

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

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