A federal judge has agreed to postpone until March 5, 2018, a trial on demands for better protection for Hanford workers, a delay of more than four months.
The plaintiffs and defendants in the lawsuit have agreed to pursue mediation and jointly asked for the trial to be delayed to see if the matter can be settled out of court.
The state of Washington is joined by Hanford Challenge and union Local 598, representing pipefitters, in the lawsuit against the Department of Energy and its tank farm contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions. Plaintiffs say chemical vapors associated with waste held in underground tanks are harming workers’ health.
Parties began preliminary settlement discussions after Dec. 6, when Judge Thomas Rice agreed to move the Richland nonjury trial to Oct. 30.
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The state had asked for more time then out of concern about the large volume of Hanford records being released and to consider the judge’s denial of plaintiffs’ request for an injunction to require additional worker protections until the trial.
Rice ruled that current tank farm protections, including requiring supplied air respirators within tank farms, were adequately protecting workers until the trial. But he also said the court does not deny that workers have been exposed to vapors or that they have experienced serious vapor-related illnesses.