Hanford

6 more Hanford vapor incidents reported. But safety measures may be working

Looking for leaks inside Hanford’s oldest double shell tank

High pressure water is sprayed to move waste around on the bottom of the inner shell of Hanford Tank AY-102. Bubbles may indicate some of the seven leaks found inside the inner shell. No waste is believed to have escaped. (Video is mute)
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High pressure water is sprayed to move waste around on the bottom of the inner shell of Hanford Tank AY-102. Bubbles may indicate some of the seven leaks found inside the inner shell. No waste is believed to have escaped. (Video is mute)

Six more Hanford workers reported a suspicious odor outside the nuclear reservation’s tank farms on Wednesday, but all declined a medical evaluation.

This was the seventh time in 2018 that workers have reported suspicious odors near the tank farms. The reports included two in February, two in June, one in September and two in October.

All but five of the 20 workers involved this year declined medical evaluations. The five who were checked were released to return to work.

But overall, reports of possible chemical vapors related to tank farm waste storage have declined sharply this year.

Tank farm workers TCH.JPG
Hanford workers are required to wear supplied air respirators for most work inside the Hanford tank farms as protection from chemical vapors. File Tri-City Herald

Before mid 2016 when requirements for supplied air respirators were expanded to include most work inside the fence lines of Hanford tank farms, more than 50 workers some years received medical evaluations for possible exposure to chemical vapors.

None of the six workers reporting odors Wednesday had symptoms associated with breathing in chemical vapors, such as coughing, a headache, shortness of breath or a metallic taste in their mouth.

Some Hanford tank farm workers have reported serious respiratory and neurological illnesses they suspect are linked to exposure to chemical vapors.

Hanford policy is to evacuate areas if workers detect an unidentified odor, because they can be chemical vapors associated with waste held in Hanford’s underground storage tanks.

On Wednesday, workers were doing maintenance on electrical distribution equipment outside the U Tank Farm when they reported an odor. Because they were outside the tank farm they were not required to wear supplied air respirators as protection against vapors.

Industrial hygiene technicians collected air samples but those samples and checks of air monitors detected no chemicals at levels of concern, according to tank farm contractor Washington River Protection Solutions.

The company continues to test systems to better protect workers from chemical vapors, including a system that uses heat to destroy the vapors and a system that would expel diluted vapors at high speeds into the air far above the ground.

The tank farm contractor began investigating better systems before a 2015 lawsuit was filed by the state of Washington and others, and continued testing is required by a proposed settlement in the lawsuit.

Annette Cary; 509-582-1533; @HanfordNews
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