Hanford

Hanford Advisory Board wants DOE openness on tank vapors

Requirements that workers use supplied-air respirators for much of the work at the Hanford tank farms have been put in place since the work shown here was done at the tank farms.
Requirements that workers use supplied-air respirators for much of the work at the Hanford tank farms have been put in place since the work shown here was done at the tank farms.

The Hanford Advisory Board will not be giving the Department of Energy advice in the coming year on efforts to better protect Hanford workers from chemical vapors from underground waste tanks.

The topic is not on the annual agenda, or work plan, that DOE and its regulators approve, although the advisory board had included the topic on its proposed agenda.

The board released a letter Monday that it sent to the Department of Energy saying, “the scope of the restrictions now imposed on board public discussions seems unnecessarily broad.”

DOE is named in two lawsuits filed in federal court over worker vapor protection, one filed by Washington and the other by Hanford Challenge and Union Local 598.

Numerous studies have been done on worker exposure to the chemical vapors during the past two decades, with DOE contractor Washington River Protection Solutions working to implement recommendations made in the latest study. That effort started before the lawsuits were filed.

“The board encourages DOE to revisit the communication restrictions, in hopes of minimizing tank farm information restricted areas to only those which directly bear on the on-going litigation,” the advisory board letter said.

Openness will only improve the board’s and the public’s trust in the DOE safety culture, it said.

“Worker safety has been and will always be a priority for the Department of Energy,” DOE said in a statement. “The department will continue to communicate as appropriate and in consideration of the ongoing litigation.”

As long as tank vapor protection is not on the annual work plan, the board will not be given formal briefings that would provide in depth information that would lead to the board issuing advice to DOE and its regulators.

However, the board can request progress reports and some information was made available in September when the board was given an update on overall progress at the Hanford tank farms and the vitrification plant being built to treat the waste for disposal. Information DOE has provided has included measures taken to date to protect workers and progress on implementing the first phase of recommendations from the latest study, which was led by the Savannah River National Laboratory.

Part of the board’s goal in writing the letter was to assure tank farm workers that they are taking the issue seriously, even if there are no plans to issue advice on the topic.

“The board reaffirms that the health and safety of the Hanford Site work force will remain one of our primary concerns and that the board will continue to actively monitor this and other important worker safety issues,” the letter said.

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

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