The Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council is encouraged by the strides made to improve worker safety in the Hanford nuclear reservation’s tank farms, President Dave Molnaa said in a letter to Hanford leaders this week.
The letter, a turnaround from HAMTC’s opinion shared in letters last summer, is one of the final messages Molnaa is likely to send as president of the umbrella group of about 15 unions doing work at Hanford.
He has announced his resignation, effective April 16. He’s been president for 12 years.
His replacement is expected to be named April 12 by the HAMTC Executive Board.
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The council is confident that with this new level of collaboration and commitment to worker safety, the parties will continue to make every effort to address the safety and health concerns of HAMTC and its represented workforce.
Dave Molnaa, HAMTC president
In June, Molnaa issued a list of demands at the Hanford tank farms out of concern that not enough was being done to protect workers there from breathing in chemical vapors associated with 56 million gallons of waste held in underground tanks.
Workers and Hanford watchdogs say the chemical exposure has caused serious illnesses in workers.
“The council believes the time for requests, suggestions and/or recommendations has long since passed and that a more aggressive approach and immediate actions are required,” Molnaa wrote in a letter to the two top Hanford officials in charge of tank farms on June 20.
The next month HAMTC, led by Molnaa, issued a stop-work order at the tank farms unless workers wore supplied air respirators for any work in the farms.
“The concerns associated with tank farm vapors and worker safety expressed in our letters have helped to serve as a catalyst for increased site monitoring, improvements in tank farm infrastructure, increased labor-management dialogue, transparent workforce communication, enhanced medical programs and most critical — improved worker safety,” Molnaa wrote in his letter this week.
It was sent to Kevin Smith, the Department of Energy Office of River Protection manager, and Mark Lindholm, president of DOE’s tank farm contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions.
The tank farm contractor and HAMTC have been able to collaborate and interact in good faith, leading to reasonable alternatives to address vapor concerns, Molnaa said in the letter.
Changes have included new monitoring and detecting equipment tested in one tank farm, new reader boards to restrict road access during tank farm activities that may increase the possibility of vapor releases, and work toward installing taller vent stacks and exhausters.
Dave Molnaa, HAMTC president
“The council is confident that with this new level of collaboration and commitment to worker safety, the parties will continue to make every effort to address the safety and health concerns of HAMTC and its represented work force,” Molnaa said in the letter.
While work is on a good path forward — “a huge change since last June” — work remains to be done, Molnaa said in an interview Tuesday.
DOE ultimately needs to control vapors, but in the meantime appropriate respirators must continue to be used to protect workers, he said.
He plans to continue working, focusing on health and safety training, he said.
During the past 12 years, Hanford has had some poor leaders and some good ones, he said.
Among the good ones is Doug Shoop, current manager of the DOE Hanford Richland Operations Office, who cares about people and is working to improve the workers’ compensation program, Molnaa said.
Molnaa said his own time has come “to step down and let the new kids take over.”
He leaves just before HAMTC turns 70 years old in June.
“We’ve endured,” he said.