Gov’t: No evidence Hanford workers exposed to chemical vapors this year via NWCN.COM

RICHLAND, Wash. – About 12,000 air samples taken on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation this year after more than three dozen workers reported being sickened by chemical vapors have failed to find a cause for the problem, Hanford officials said Wednesday.

But Hanford officials said that doesn’t mean that workers aren’t getting sick.
“Our workers are not exposed to vapors, but they are having symptoms,” said Tom Fletcher of the U.S. Department of Energy, which manages Hanford. “The question is: ‘Why?’ ”

“This isn’t something we are taking lightly,” Fletcher said.
Related: Watch KING 5’s series: The human toll of Hanford’s dirty secrets
Hanford for more than four decades made plutonium for nuclear weapons, and it now contains the nation’s greatest volume of nuclear waste. Much of the waste is stored in 177 giant underground storage tanks. It is workers at those tanks who are reporting smelling chemical vapors and then falling ill.

The 177 tanks contain a toxic stew of chemical and radioactive wastes, with no two tanks storing the exact same contents. Hanford workers are busy transferring the contents of leaking, older single-walled tanks into newer double-walled tanks.

Workers have reported being exposed to chemical vapors at Hanford for decades. Expert reports produced in the early 1990s warned that improved worker protection practices were needed to avoid vapor exposures. Despite these recommendations, use of respirators remains voluntary on much of the site. On Wednesday, Hanford managers demonstrated how protective equipment can hinder workers from performing their jobs while downplaying the threat posed by chemical vapors.

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