Hanford tank farm contractor says it is keeping workers safe

The Hanford tank farm contractor said its industrial hygiene and monitoring programs to protect workers are state of the art in a letter to the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council.
The Hanford tank farm contractor said its industrial hygiene and monitoring programs to protect workers are state of the art in a letter to the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council. Courtest WRPS

The Hanford tank farm contractor defended its protection of workers in a letter to the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council on Tuesday, a day after the union group issued a list of demands to better protect workers from chemical vapors.

“Throughout the WRPS contract period, we have ensured that personnel are protected,” said the letter from tank farm contractor Washington River Protection Solutions.

However, the contractor will consider in good faith the actions outlined by the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council, or HAMTC, said Mark Lindholm, president of the tank farm contractor, in the letter. HAMTC is an umbrella group for 15 unions with workers at Hanford.

Chemical vapors associated with waste held in underground tanks at Hanford have been an issue for at least 20 years. With 53 workers receiving medical evaluations for possible exposure to vapors in recent months, HAMTC told the tank farm contractor Monday that more aggressive action was needed immediately to protect workers.

HAMTC has the power to stop work if it does not believe workers are safe.

Lindholm said in the letter to HAMTC President Dave Molnaa that the tank farm contractor is continuing to improve working conditions that already exceed regulations and the requirements and expectations for industry.

The letter said the tank farm contractor has consistently maintained the air that workers breathe to meet occupational exposure limits used in the nuclear and petro-chemical industry.

“Our industrial hygiene and monitoring programs are fully compliant and state of the art, setting new standards for our industry,” Lindholm said in the letter.

He acknowledged that despite increasingly better monitoring and protections related to chemical vapors “some workers continue to express concerns associated with odors.”

Some workers report respiratory symptoms after smelling suspicious odors that may be linked to chemical vapors and fear that the chemical exposure could lead to serious health problems.

The contractor has made progress over the last 18 months in implementing recommendations made in an independent review of the chemical vapors issues.

The industrial hygiene program, which protects workers from chemical hazards, has been expanded and improved to the rigor of Hanford’s program for radiological controls, the letter said.

New technology is being tested to improve detection of chemical vapors, and a comprehensive vapor control strategy with much improved monitoring should be ready to implement by October, it said.

Implementing the comprehensive vapor control plan “represents the most meaningful and aggressive steps that can be taken to demonstrate and ensure the continued protection of HAMTC and all workers,” the letter said.

HAMTC wants better monitoring and improved technology.

But it also has demanded more extensive use of supplied air respirators, including for all work within the tank farms and for some work within 200 feet of the tank farm boundaries. It wants all work that could increase the possibility of chemical vapor releases scheduled on evening, night and weekend shifts. Fewer workers would be on site at those times.

As WRPS considers the demands, it will consider whether changes are realistic to implement and will make a positive difference in worker health and safety, the letter said said.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews