Five Hanford workers received medical evaluations as a precaution after they and other workers reported suspicious odors that could indicate the presence of chemical vapors Tuesday morning at the nuclear reservation.
Among the workers was an industrial hygienist who was able to collect air samples immediately, according to Hanford officials. Often after workers evacuate an area a crew is sent in to collect air samples, which can allow time for vapors to disperse.
None of the air samples showed chemical contaminants above background levels, according to Washington River Protection Solutions, the Hanford tank farm contractor.
All workers were medically cleared to return to work.
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Three of the workers experienced symptoms and were sent for medical evaluations in the morning. Although symptoms are not released to maintain workers’ medical privacy, typical symptoms linked to chemical vapor exposure are coughing, headaches and shortness of breath.
Another five workers smelled suspicious odors but had no symptoms. Later in the day two of those workers also had medical checks, but the others declined medical evaluations.
The workers were outside the nuclear reservation’s A Tank Farm in central Hanford doing work at a new water and air service building.
Because the workers were outside the boundary of a tank farm, supplied air respirators were not required as protection against chemical vapors. The chemical vapors are associated with waste held in underground tanks.
Tuesday’s incident brings the number of Hanford workers receiving medical evaluations for possible chemical vapor exposure to seven this year. Others have reported suspicious odors but declined medical evaluations. Hanford workers are concerned that inhaling chemical vapors could lead to serious neurological and respiratory illnesses.
No work that would have disturbed waste, which can increase the chance of chemical vapors being released, was being done in the vicinity, according to Hanford officials.
Employees were told to leave the area and access was restricted until the area was determined by Hanford officials to be safe later in the day.
By the Herald’s count, the incident Tuesday brought the number of Hanford workers receiving medical evaluations for possible chemical vapor exposure to seven since the beginning of the year.
All were outside tank farms where supplied air respirators would have been required. Additional workers have reported suspicious odors but declined medical evaluations.
Hanford workers are concerned that inhaling chemical vapors could lead to serious neurological and respiratory illnesses.
The Department of Energy and its tank farm contractor are being sued in federal court by the state of Washington, Hanford Challenge and union Local 598 for better protection of Hanford workers from chemical vapors.
More than 50 workers received medical checks in 2016 because of potential exposure to chemical vapors and were cleared by the site’s occupational health provider to return to work.
Most of the incidents occurred before Washington River Protection Solutions began requiring supplied air respirators for most work inside tank farms in response to a stop-work order issued by the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council.
“Today’s reports of tank vapor exposures are yet another illustration of why I filed a lawsuit against the federal government to protect Washington workers at Hanford,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement. “The federal government should stop resisting our lawsuit, acknowledge the seriousness of this problem, and focus on protecting workers.”
Both the state and the defendants have asked for multiple delays in the trial.