Hanford

2nd day in a row. Possible chemical vapor smell reported at Hanford

Hanford workers are required to wear supplied air respirators for most work inside the nuclear reservation’s tank farms as protection against breathing in chemical vapors.
Hanford workers are required to wear supplied air respirators for most work inside the nuclear reservation’s tank farms as protection against breathing in chemical vapors. Courtesy Washington River Protection Solutions

Suspicious odors were reported Tuesday at the Hanford tank farms for the second day in a row.

Two Hanford workers reported the odor in the morning outside the SY Tank Farm in central Hanford. They both declined precautionary medical evaluations.

Workers report odors because they could be from potential harmful chemical vapors associated with waste in the nuclear reservation’s underground tanks.

Supplied air respirators are required for most work within the boundaries of individual tank farms to protect workers from inhaling potentially harmful vapors.

About 56 million gallons of waste left from the past production at Hanford of plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program are stored in the underground tanks.

Tuesday, the two workers were outside the fence line excavating for the installation of a safety shower.

When they reported the odor, workers were told to leave the area.

Industrial hygiene technicians will collect samples for analysis and perform other monitoring.

On Monday afternoon five workers reported a suspicious odor seven miles away inside the 702-AZ exhauster building. They also declined medical screening.

The building is outside the tank farms it serves — the AY and AZ Tank Farms — so supplied air respirators are not required there.

No suspicious odors have been reported by workers wearing supplied air respirators since they were required for most work within tank farms after an agreement was reached in late summer 2016 between the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council and Washington River Protection Solutions.

Tuesday morning contractor Washington River Protection Solutions said sampling results showed no chemicals at levels of concern and access to the building was restored.

The SY Tank Farm is in the 200 West Area and the 702-AZ exhauster building is in the 200 East Area.

The incidents this week were the first since Nov. 28, when three workers reported a suspicious odor at a building outside the AW Tank Farm. They received medical evaluations and were cleared to return to work the same day.

No suspicious odors have been reported by workers wearing supplied air respirators since they were required for most work within tank farms after an agreement was reached in late summer 2016 between the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council and Washington River Protection Solutions.

HAMTC, an umbrella group for 15 unions, had ordered work stopped within tank farm boundaries unless its workers were wearing supplied air respirators.

However, it agreed to allow workers to use air-purifying respirators if they could be proved safe under certain limited conditions.

A limited amount of work, such as routine monitoring when no waste is being disturbed, can be done in the AP and SY Tank Farms by workers wearing only air-purifying respirators, HAMTC agreed in 2017. Hanford has 18 tank farms. Disturbing waste increases the chances that chemical vapors will be emitted.

Some workers at Hanford have reported neurological and respiratory illnesses after exposure to chemical vapors at the tank farms, Hanford union officials say.

The state of Washington, Hanford Challenge and the pipefitters union Local 598 sued DOE and Washington River Protection Solutions in September 2015, seeking better protection for Hanford workers at risk of inhaling chemical vapors. The case is pending with the parties working toward a settlement.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews

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