Regulation waiver might keep Hanford workers safer

A worker applies a coating of polyurea to a contaminated slurry pump to prepare it to be placed in a Hanford landfill.
A worker applies a coating of polyurea to a contaminated slurry pump to prepare it to be placed in a Hanford landfill. Courtesy DOE

Federal officials are proposing an exception to a federal waste disposition regulation that appears to be exposing Hanford workers to unneeded risk.

About three years ago, visiting federal inspectors observed that a practice sometimes used at Hanford does not meet the waste disposal standards of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Waste must be treated before it is placed in landfills or disposal trenches, according to the law.

Since then, Hanford workers have been unable to place very large or unwieldly hazardous items in the bottom of the huge landfill in central Hanford, and then contain contamination by pouring grout around the waste before it is buried. In the past, the items would be placed on a concrete pad, or support, and then dirt berms or plywood would to make a form to concrete the waste in place.

Now contaminated equipment must be given a polymer coating before it is lifted into the Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility in central Hanford.

$10,000 minimum increased cost of treating large equipment before placing it in the landfill

According to the proposed plan to amend regulations at the landfill, that requires three times as many workers, and they spend about four times as long to treat the waste. They also must spend that time closer to the radioactively contaminated waste.

The closest a worker has to be to radioactive materials for in-landfill grouting is eight feet, compared to 1 foot for workers applying the polymer coat. The radiation exposure at eight feet is 1/64th the exposure at 1 foot, according to a proposed amendment to allow in-landfill treatment.

The cost increases from an average of $5,000 per item to $15,000 to $30,000.

The change would only be allowed for equipment that is large, long or heavy and has hazardous contamination.

The Hanford Advisory Board supported the change in a letter of advice sent to EPA and Department of Energy officials a year ago, saying hand coating the equipment before it is placed in the landfill “results in an otherwise avoidable radiological exposure.”

“The board supports a common sense, streamlined approach to reducing both worker risk and the potential for airborne releases,” it said.

DOE and EPA are accepting comments on the proposed change to regulations until Oct. 28. Send them to Kristen.Skopeck@rl.doe.gov.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews