The Department of Energy and its tank farm contractor have been ordered to continue using supplied-air respirators and take other steps already proposed by DOE to protect Hanford workers from chemical vapors.
U.S. Judge Thomas Rice ordered DOE and its contractor at a hearing Tuesday to take the steps until he rules on immediate protections requested by the state of Washington and other plaintiffs in a motion for preliminary injunction they filed last month.
DOE had asked for reasonable time to prepare arguments and retain expert witnesses before Rice ruled on the preliminary injunction but offered to take steps to protect workers until the ruling.
It said it would continue using supplied air respirators within all Hanford tank farms. It had already taken that action in response to demands made in June by the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council, an organization of Hanford unions.
DOE also offered not to do any work in the tank farms that disturbs waste, unless needed for safety reasons, until the judge rules on the state’s request for immediate protection.
Disturbing waste increases the possibility that chemical vapors associated with waste in underground tanks could be released.
Oct. 12 is the hearing on the preliminary injunction. It will be in U.S. District Court in Spokane.
If work that disturbs waste must be done, plaintiffs would be notified and a new mobile monitoring lab would be used to help protect workers, according to court documents.
In recent months about 55 Hanford employees have received medical evaluations for possible exposure to chemical vapors.
The tank farm contractor said all have been cleared to return to work but employees are concerned that exposure to chemical vapors could lead to serious respiratory or neurological problems.
The restriction would not prevent testing of new waste retrieval equipment being installed in Tank AY-102, a Hanford double-shell tank being emptied of waste because it has an interior leak, DOE said in court documents. The equipment would be tested with water and only personnel essential to the testing would be allowed in the area, DOE said in court documents.
By the third week of August, the tank farm contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions, will have a suite of new vapor monitoring and detection equipment being tested in one of the Hanford tank farms, DOE said.
The proposed measures would encompass the protections the state had asked for in its motion for a preliminary injunction, or make them unnecessary, DOE said in a court filing.
Bob Ferguson, the Washington State Attorney General, called the interim measures valuable.
“These are basic but important safety measures that should have been in place long ago but weren’t due to delays of Energy and its contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions,” he said in a statement.
Hanford Challenge and Local 598, the pipefitters union, also had requested a preliminary injunction.
The judge set a hearing on the motion for preliminary injunction for Oct. 12 in Spokane.