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Work stops at 27 Hanford buildings for beryllium check

Washington Closure Hanford has stopped work at 27 buildings at Hanford as it makes sure they have no beryllium contamination.

The 27 buildings are among a couple of hundred under the contractor's control and have not been sampled for beryllium, in some cases because they are new structures.

An independent inspection released by the Department of Energy Office of Health, Safety and Security on June 2 found a new sitewide program to prevent chronic beryllium disease at Hanford had shortcomings.

As it became clear during the inspection this spring that improvements were needed, DOE Hanford officials instructed the site's environmental cleanup contractors to take actions, such as completing sampling for beryllium at any facility where it is required.

Washington Closure's action announced Monday goes beyond those requirements, said spokesman Todd Nelson. The contractor, which is doing cleanup along the Columbia River, wanted to be able to answer employee questions about any of its buildings.

During the years that Hanford was producing plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons program, beryllium was machined as part of the process to fabricate fuel for Hanford's reactors. The nuclear reservation also has used and modified tools that were made of beryllium because they are less likely to spark.

Workers may develop chronic beryllium disease, an incurable and often debilitating lung disease, if they breathe in fine particles of the metal and have a genetic susceptibility. Some buildings and equipment at the site are contaminated with the dust, which may be left from work decades earlier.

"Based on DOE's recently released report, there are things we can do to strengthen our beryllium program, but by and large we have a pretty robust beryllium program," Nelson said. "The reason we decided to issue the suspension order was to make the program even better and ensure we were fullycompliant with DOE's program."

The 27 buildings in the shutdown include 13 near the Fast Flux Test Facility and nine at the Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility, a large landfill for low-level radioactive and chemical waste operated by Washington Closure in central Hanford. They also include five buildings in the 300 Area just north of Richland, where research was conducted and fuel was fabricated.

Washington Closure also will not handle or dispose of beryllium-contaminated waste at the landfill under the shutdown order, which is in place for a month. It also will not allow beryllium-contaminated waste to be brought to the landfill by other contractors.

Buildings will be cleared for work as soon as inspections are completed. Some buildings at the landfill have been built recently and there is no reason to suspect beryllium contamination, but Washington Closure wants to confirm they are clean.

Senior staff and industrial hygienists will be conducting a review of all beryllium work-related activities, said Neil Brosee, Washington Closure president, in a memo to staff Monday. Senior representatives from the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council have been included in discussions, he said.

Washington River Protection Solutions, the Hanford tank farm contractor, is sampling 45 buildings to validate they are clean, said spokesman John Britton. Based on results, up to 100 buildings could be checked. All of the buildings previously have been checked for beryllium contamination, he said.

Unlike environmental cleanup work elsewhere at Hanford, current work at the tank farms generally does not include handling beryllium-contaminated waste.

CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Group, which is doing central Hanford cleanup, is reassessing about 475 buildings, said spokeswoman Dee Millikin. Based on those results the contractor will decide which might need to be sampled.

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

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