Tentative union agreement reached on Hanford stop work order

The Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council has agreed that if certain conditions are met, it will lift an order prohibiting tank farm work unless workers are protected from chemical vapors by supplied air respirators.

A memorandum of understanding was signed Wednesday by HAMTC and the tank farm contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions, after mediation.

The Department of Energy said in a statement that it was encouraged and will monitor efforts of HAMTC and the tank farm contractor to fulfill the conditions of the agreement.

Workers will see no immediate change.

Conditions placed on the agreement reached by HAMTC, an umbrella group for 15 unions, and the tank farm contractor will require supplied air respirators for the immediate future.

In addition, the Department of Energy and its contractor remain under a federal court order temporarily requiring supplied air respirators in the tank farms.

HAMTC issued a safety “stop work order” July 11 in Hanford tank farms unless workers wear supplied air respirators. The order can only be lifted by agreement between DOE’s contractor and HAMTC. Work has continued in the tank farms with workers on supplied air respirators, typically carrying heavy bottles of air on their backs.

HAMTC has agreed that it will consider allowing air-purifying respirators to be used instead, if the respirator cartridges can be proved effective.

Washington River Protection Solutions has been testing cartridges that filter chemicals, including under extreme conditions, such as placing the cartridges directly on tank exhausters.

Test results will be analyzed by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland and could be available in October.

After that, HAMTC will pick a third party to review the testing methodology and results and agree that air-purifying respirators would protect workers. The review could take about 30 days.

DOE and Washington River Protection Solutions also would need to convince U.S. Judge Thomas Rice that air-purifying respirators would be protective.

The state of Washington, Hanford Challenge and union Local 598 have sued DOE and its contractor for better protection for Hanford workers from chemical vapors.

With more than 50 workers receiving medical evaluations for possible exposure to chemical vapors from spring through July, the plaintiffs asked for immediate protections while the lawsuit is decided.

In early August, Rice ordered that workers within the tank farms use supplied air respirators and that other steps be taken to protect workers until he could rule on the request for immediate protections. Workers already were on supplied air respirators because of the stop work order, and DOE had suggested that as a condition to the judge.

A hearing on the motion for preliminary injunction is set for Oct. 12.

HAMTC President Dave Molnaa was not immediately available for comment Thursday.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews

Related stories from Tri-City Herald