11 Hanford workers sick Thurs. from vapors via KING5

Hanford tank farm workers performing routine tasks at the vast nuclear waste site reported getting sick after breathing chemical vapors on Thursday.

The toxic gases most likely escaped from pipes used to move nuclear waste from one area of Hanford to another. Transferring waste always increases the chance of employee exposure to vapors because of the complexity of moving highly radioactive, chemically contaminated nuclear byproducts from aging storage tanks.

Starting around noon, two employees reported a metallic taste in their mouths after removing their personal safety gear. They sought medical attention and the area they were working in, the AP tank farm, was evacuated.

Two hours later two more workers experienced nausea and a dry throat after being exposed to vapors above a line used to transfer waste between the AX and AP tank farms. The area they were working in was evacuated and road blocks were set up as extra precautions. These workers were sent to the onsite medical clinic as well.

Then between 3 pm and 4 pm seven additional workers near a changing trailer outside the AX farm requested medical attention after smelling the strong odor of ammonia.

After the exposures, some employees complained that full respiratory protection wasn’t mandated after the first two workers reported problems mid-day. They also objected to a decision to continue pumping and transferring waste.


Thursday’s vapor exposures are the latest in a series of problematic events at the nuclear site in the last two weeks. On Tuesday, KING 5 broke the story that signs have emerged that a second double-shell tank, AY-101, is beginning to leak.

And last week the KING 5 Investigators found that the leak in AY-102 has greatly expanded since the pumping operation began.

The liquid nuclear waste held in underground tanks is the result of four decades of plutonium production at Hanford for the country’s weapons defense program. Plutonium produced at the site fueled the bomb dropped on Nagasaki in World War II. Production continued through the Cold War to build up the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Since 1989, the only work at Hanford has been related to cleaning up the waste left behind. The most dangerous byproducts are contained in the 56 million gallons of liquid waste housed in the aging underground tanks.

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