State Attorney General Bob Ferguson in 2016 frustrated with the slow pace of cleanup.
The Hanford tank farm contractor has begun posting data on a public website to increase communication with workers and the public about chemical vapors.
“This page is intended to be a landing spot for critical sampling data to facilitate discussion and help alleviate concerns tied to chemicals we encounter while conducting the important work we do at Hanford’s tank farm,” said Mark Lindholm, president of Washington River Protection Solutions, in a message on the page.
The initial data posted at wrpstoc.com under “industrial hygiene” shows monitoring checks from April 28 through May 10 after workers reported suspicious odors or symptoms that might be caused by breathing vapors. Symptoms can include coughing, dizziness and shortness of breath.
None of the initial data posted shows chemicals detected at levels above limits set to protect workers. Those limits include 2 parts per million for volatile organic compounds, compounds that quickly evaporate into the air. Some math may be required by those viewing the data — to convert parts per million into parts per billion, for example — to compare monitoring results to limits.
The page also lists the 59 chemicals that Hanford officials believe are of potential concern, associated occupational exposure limits and the lower “action levels” set to protect workers.
“This web page is a work in progress,” Lindholm said in a message to employees. “Information will be updated periodically with additional data to help keep you informed.”
50 Approximate number of workers receiving medical evaluations for potential exposure to chemical vapors this spring
The web page helps meet a recommendation from an independent panel led by the Savannah River National Laboratory: better communication with workers and the public. Washington River Protection Solutions is in its 16th month of implementing a detailed plan based on the panel’s recommendations to better protect workers.
The assessment found that brief, possibly intense releases of chemical vapors from the waste held in Hanford’s underground tanks may be causing respiratory symptoms experienced by workers. Workers are concerned that the chemical exposure could lead to serious health issues long term, including neurological problems.
Under the tank farm contractor’s current protocol, when at least two workers smell a suspicious odor or one worker experiences symptoms, several steps are taken. Workers exit the area, access is restricted, employees may be sent for a medical evaluation, industrial hygiene personnel collect air samples and the samples are analyzed to determine the presence of chemicals and their concentration.
The air samples do not show what was in the air at the time workers reported possible chemical vapors, but they show the quality of the air shortly afterward. If concentrations are shown to be below action levels set to protect health, access to the area is restored.
About 50 workers have received medical evaluations this spring because of potential chemical vapor exposure. They include workers who had symptoms, those who smelled a suspicious odor and those who were in the area.
Workers are required to wear supplied air respirators when work is being done that is known to increase the possibility that chemical vapors could be present.