Washington’s two U.S. senators brought the chemical vapors issue at the Hanford nuclear reservation to the attention of new Energy Secretary Rick Perry, asking him to improve safety and make sure improvements last.
Democrat Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray called for annual reviews of practices to protect workers from chemical vapors at Hanford.
“It is clear that consistent oversight is a key component to improving safety,” said the letter sent to the energy secretary on Thursday. Cantwell is the ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Nothing less than a complete commitment to safety at Hanford is acceptable.
Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray
The two senators urged him to come up with a plan, including a schedule and funding, to implement recommendations in three recent independent reviews.
Then the Office of Inspector General and the Office of Enterprise Assessments should be asked to do annual reviews of health and safety practices.
An independent review in 2014 found a link between chemical vapor releases and worker health effects, particularly upper respiratory irritation. Many workers and advocacy groups are concerned that the chemical exposures could cause serious neurological or respiratory illnesses.
When dozens of workers reported possible exposures to chemical vapors in 2016, three more independent reviews were conducted to look at worker safety at the Hanford tank farms.
The vapors are associated with the 56 million gallons of waste stored in underground tanks at Hanford until the waste can be treated for disposal.
One of our most important duties is making sure those men and women who are working on a very dangerous site have the appropriate protection that they deserve and that they’ve earned.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry
The 2016 reports had differing objectives, but common themes, said the two senators.
They shared recommendations on communication and trust between management and workers, the workers’ compensation program, the industrial hygiene program, control of vapors to keep them away from workers and worker involvement in safety programs.
Reports were done by the Department of Energy Office of Inspector General, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the DOE Office of Enterprise Assessments.
“Nothing less than a complete commitment to safety at Hanford is acceptable,” the senators told Perry.
They also pointed out that he said during his confirmation hearing that one of DOE’s most important duties is “making sure that those men and women who are working on a very dangerous site have the appropriate protection that they deserve and that they’ve earned.”