Hanford beryllium protection approved

The Department of Energy has approved a plan to better protect Hanford workers from beryllium after an inspection this spring found the program lacking.

The proposed corrections to worker protection were developed by the Hanford Beryllium Awareness Group, DOE Hanford offices, Hanford contractors and the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council. It was approved by DOE headquarters officials.

The plan of corrections is good, said Mark Fisher, chairman of the Beryllium Awareness Group. But the real test will be seeing how it is implemented, he said.

"Actions are going to speak louder than words," he said.

The plan calls for rechecking buildings at Hanford with a new trigger level that requires action if dust samples yield half the amount of beryllium as was considered a concern previously. Contractors will be required to do more concentrated sampling of the area to determine whether beryllium is present that could harm workers, Fisher said.

Some Hanford contractors already have started that work and are looking at previous sampling data to see if enough beryllium was detected to hit the new trigger level, he said.

The plan also requires more in-depth epidemiological studies, he said. The studies should identify the worker jobs at Hanford that present the most risk for beryllium contamination, including what tasks were performed and where, he said.

The information will be useful to help current and former workers understand whether they may be at a greater risk for contamination and should be tested, Fisher said.

The plan also calls for more complete training and more oversight, he said.

Beryllium is a metal previously machined at Hanford for fuel cladding, among other uses. Small particles remain in the dust that may be breathed in by workers, causing an incurable lung disease in those with a genetic susceptibility.

DOE Hanford officials began to require improvements in worker protection as an inspection by the DOE Office of Health, Safety and Security in Washington, D.C., began to turn up shortcomings in the Hanford program this spring.

Among actions were verifying that buildings contaminated with beryllium were correctly posted to warn workers and having supervisors and planners attend training if they were involved in projects that might include beryllium contamination.

Contractors also were told that only information from a beryllium expert may be used to determine the status of a building when work there is being planned.

DOE also has formed an Independent Beryllium Oversight Team at Hanford.

"This will really improve the ability of workers to get questions answered," said Geoff Tyree, DOE spokesman. "(It will) give workers a clear line of communication for resolving concerns about beryllium."

Registered nurse Mary Sams, known among workers for her beryllium expertise, will serve as health advocate for workers.

She will provide assistance on workers' compensation claims and on filing claims under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act. She also will provide information about medical services at Hanford and at medical facilities with strong chronic beryllium disease programs, such as National Jewish Hospital in Denver.

She will serve as a communication liaison, helping workers learn more about Hanford's protection program and helping DOE contractors encourage their workers to participate in programs such as epidemiology studies and medical testing.

DOE plans a presentation about 10:30 a.m. today on its beryllium disease prevention program during a Hanford Advisory Board committee meeting in Room 142 of the Federal Building in Richland. The meeting is open to the public.

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