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Hanford tank waste pumping resumes

Pumping of waste from Hanford's underground tanks resumed Tuesday four days after a worker called a stop to work because of concerns about chemical vapors.

Washington River Protection Solutions had made several changes to better protect workers before the worker called a stop to pumping Friday and the contractor made no further changes before work was restarted Tuesday.

Friday was the second time this month that a worker had used his authority to halt pumping because he and other workers believed vapors posed a safety concern. Both times contractor and organized labor officials followed Department of Energy procedures and investigated and then determined that it would be safe to resume pumping, according to WRPS.

In a message to employees on Tuesday Chuck Spencer, president of WRPS, said chemical readings are well below established action levels for chemicals detected and the contractor is taking steps that should further lower exposure.

"However, it's obvious chemical vapors continue to be of concern to a number of our workers," he said.

Workers with concerns should talk to their managers, he said.

"Rumors often flourish during times like these and we want to make sure you have the best information available," he said.

Although both halts called by workers were lifted, WRPS did stop work Feb. 2 because of vapor concerns and did not attempt to restart work until Friday.

During that down time it roped off a corridor that included the C Tank Farm, the nearby AN Tank Farm and an area between the farms where workers had smelled vapors in late January. Workers are encouraged to wear face masks that have a layer of carbon in that area, but wearing those masks or more protective respiratory gear remains voluntary.

Monitors that will sound an alarm when chemical vapors are detected at levels well below those requiring action have been installed in the area between the farms. In addition more samples are being collected for laboratory analysis from the roped-off area and from a stack that vents chemical vapors from Tank C-104 into the air.

While tank pumping continues, WRPS will continue to look at other options that may offer more "protection, confidence and comfort," Spencer said. Among possibilities discussed earlier is raising the stack at Tank C-104 higher than its current 17 feet.

Hanford Challenge, a watchdog group, had called for a stop to work at the C Tank Farm last week until workers are confident their health is protected.

In late January about a dozen workers reported smelling the chemical vapors and some had symptoms that WRPS said included watery eyes, throat irritation and a metallic taste.

Hanford Challenge said some workers also have had nosebleeds, numb lips and gums, irregular heartbeats, tightness in the chest, headaches and a burning feeling in the lungs.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; More Hanford news at hanfordnews.com.

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