Waiver granted to protect Hanford workers

A waiver has been granted to a federal regulation that appeared to expose Hanford workers to unneeded risk when they disposed of large or unwieldy hazardous items in the huge central Hanford landfill.

After a required public comment period, the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency approved treating the items after they are placed in the landfill. Three years ago, federal regulators observed that Resource Conservation and Recovery Act standards require waste be treated before it is placed in a landfill.

Workers at the Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility can again place large contaminated objects on a concrete pad in the bottom of the landfill and then pour grout in a form built around the object to concrete the waste in place. In recent years, workers had to get close enough to the contaminated equipment — including large, long or heavy equipment — to spray multiple layers of a polymer coating on it before it was placed in the landfill for disposal.

Allowing grouting within the landfill costs about $5,000 per item, compared to about $15,000 to $30,000 for treating an item outside the landfill and then placing it. Grouting the waste in place also reduces the radiation exposure to workers, according to Hanford officials.