Hanford

State AG considers legal options to protect Hanford workers

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has called for more federal involvement to help protect workers at Hanford tank farms from chemical vapors.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has called for more federal involvement to help protect workers at Hanford tank farms from chemical vapors. Tri-City Herald file

Washington state’s attorney general is exploring further legal options to keep Hanford workers safe from chemical vapors, he said in a statement released early Tuesday evening.

The announcement came after a day when six more Hanford workers received medical evaluations for possible exposure to chemical vapors.

All were outside the tank farms, where radioactive waste left from the past processing of plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program are stored in underground tanks. The vapors are associated with the chemical portion of the waste.

They bring the number of workers being evaluated for possible exposure to chemical vapors since Thursday to 33.

Gov. Jay Inslee, visiting the Tri-Cities Tuesday, told the Herald editorial board that the vapor issue is “disturbing.”

Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the continued exposure of workers is “shameful.”

He filed a lawsuit in September against the Department of Energy and its Hanford tank farm contractor, seeking better chemical vapor protection for workers.

It is pending and has been combined with a similar lawsuit filed by Local Union 598, which represents Hanford pipefitters and welders, and Hanford Challenge, a Seattle-based advocacy group for Hanford workers.

“The events of the past several days are a disturbing illustration of why I filed a lawsuit against the federal government to protect Washingtonians who work at Hanford,” he said in a statement.

“What’s happening at Hanford isn’t right, and I am exploring further legal options to keep our workers safe,” he said. He plans to meet with Hanford workers later this week.

He also called on President Barack Obama and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to become personally involved in the issue.

“How many Washington workers need to get sick before the federal government solves this problem?” he asked.

Workers are concerned that exposure to the chemical vapors could lead long term to serious neurological or other illnesses.

This story will be updated.

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