Thousands of Hanford workers tested for drugs and alcohol. Some failed, and more testing is planned

All available workers with access to Hanford’s $17 billion vitrification plant were tested for drugs and alcohol last week as part of a contractor-led focus on the issue.

Many other workers at the Hanford nuclear reservation have been notified that they can expect an expanded drug testing program starting in July.

An increase in positive test results for drug and alcohol use at the massive plant’s construction site in recent months prompted the widespread testing last week, said Bechtel National spokesman George Rangel.

In addition, Bechtel is aware that local law enforcement agencies have reported that drug trafficking in the Tri-Cities area is increasing, Rangel said.

Usually, the vitrification plant project does random drug and alcohol testing, plus post-accident testing or if there is a suspicion of drug or alcohol use.

About 2,800 people have access to the plant site in the center of the Hanford nuclear reservation, including employees who work there daily and those who visit occasionally and have security badges that allow access.

Hanford safety signs.jpg
Courtesy Department of Energy

They include workers for Bechtel, its primary subcontractor, Aecom, and other subcontractors.

Bechtel would not say how many workers in the testing sweep had suspicious results and DOE said it had not received the results.

Workers could lose jobs

Bechtel would say only that some workers failed the tests.

Those cases are being handled based on the policy of their employers and disciplinary action could include losing their jobs.

Hanford map.jpg
Courtesy Department of Energy

The project now can move forward with greater assurance of a safe and productive work environment for all workers, Rangel said.

“We will continue to engage with local law enforcement, using K-9 units and other resources to eliminate banned substances,” he said. “Random, post-accident and ‘for cause’ drug and alcohol testing will also continue.”

The vitrification plant is being built to turn up to 56 million gallons of radioactive waste into a stable glass form for disposal. The waste is left from the past production of plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program.

4 more contractors change testing

Earlier this month four other contractors at Hanford sent messages to their workers to notify them of changes to drug testing programs.

The contractors approached DOE, saying they wanted to expand drug testing and were given approval by DOE. DOE also agreed to pay for the increased testing costs up to caps set for each contractor.

The contractors — Washington River Protection Solutions, CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co., Mission Support Alliance and Wastren Advantage — employ about 6,000 workers.

Random drug testing will be expanded to include more nonunion employees.

Many union members of the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council workforce already are subject to random drug tests, based on the specific tasks of their jobs.

Expanding testing to the rest of the HAMTC workforce will be discussed in future contract negotiations, workers were told.

“A safe and drug-free workplace is the right of every worker at Hanford and the responsibility of the employers and management to provide,” said the message to Washington River Protection Solutions workers.

Senior staff writer Annette Cary covers Hanford, energy, the environment, science and health for the Tri-City Herald. She’s been a news reporter for more than 30 years in the Pacific Northwest.