Hanford Challenge is exploring whether family members of Hanford workers may have been made ill by exposure to contamination from the nuclear reservation.
It is conducting a community health assessment, asking for input from families of workers or those who live in homes that were previously occupied by Hanford workers.
If enough of a pattern is evident, the watchdog group may be able to interest a university in conducting a formal study, said Tom Carpenter, executive director of Hanford Challenge. Depending on the findings, there could be a need for programs for those harmed or at risk, he said.
A national program, the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program, has paid more than $1 billion in compensation and medical claims either to Hanford and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory employees who became ill because of workplace exposures or to their survivors.
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The group is not making any claims about harm to nonworkers, but is interested in looking for possible trends for further study, Carpenter said.
As Hanford Challenge employees started seeing Hanford workers who were sick, they sometimes would see that family members also were ill, Carpenter said.
In addition, the group has sampled the dust in some Richland homes in areas where it is likely to build up long term, such as under refrigerators, and found "fairly elevated" levels of radioactive contamination in some instances, he said.
Workers may have tracked contamination into their homes. Or contamination might have been spread in the air, he said. Hanford released radioactive material from its stacks from World War II into the early 1950s as plutonium was made for the nation's weapons programs.
Of 800 surveys Hanford Challenge has distributed asking about health issues, it has received about 300 responses. Those have included 161 workers with illnesses and 81 family members with illnesses that could be caused by radiation, including 53 people with cancer, he said.
Those who want to fill out a survey can go to http://svy.mk/1mbGVDe on the Internet. Hanford Challenge can be reached in Seattle at 206-292-2850.
Carpenter spoke Friday at an information session organized by Hanford Challenge in Richland.
Free medical exams for former workers at Hanford and other Department of Energy sites also were discussed.
In addition to checks such as chest X-rays, blood tests and hearing tests, some former building trades workers now are eligible for free low-dose CT scans if they are current or former smokers, said Sherry Gosseen of the Kennewick office of the Building Trades National Medical Screening Program.
Of 138 scans so far, four cases of lung cancer have been found and indicators of other diseases, including asbestos disease, have been found in other former workers, she said.
To reach the Building Trades National Medical Screening Program in Kennewick, call 509-783-6830. Former workers not in the building trades may call 866-812-6703 for screening information.
For information about compensation for ill workers, call the Hanford Resource Center at 946-3333 or 888-654-0014.
w Annette Cary: 582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @HanfordNews