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Nuclear worker: ‘Retaliation is very real at Hanford’ via King5

Whistle-blower Dave Lee, a veteran instrument technician at the site, said after he made repeated attempts to bring attention to an unsafe condition at Hanford, he was harassed, isolated, and made to clean closets instead of his regular duties fixing and maintaining complicated pieces of equipment.

“Retaliation and harassment is very, very real at Hanford and that’s a fact. I lived it and I’m living it right now,” said Lee. “I’m cleaning closets and I’m replacing filters and if that’s not degrading and retaliatory, explain to me what is.”

Lee works in what’s called the 222 S Lab at Hanford. It’s a 70,000 square foot facility operated by the U.S. Department of Energy’s contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS). Work in the lab consists of analyzing samples of lethal radioactive nuclear waste taken from underground storage tanks. They also analyze vapors captured from the headspaces of the tanks. The vapors contain a mix of poisonous chemicals that were used to extract plutonium from spent fuel rods during plutonium production. Production took place at Hanford from the 1940’s through the 1980’s for the country’s nuclear weapons program. Since then, the site has been a cleanup project exclusively – one of biggest environmental remediation projects in the world.

Since November of 2015 Lee says he’s repeatedly brought up safety concerns related to a piece of machinery used to analyze vapors. He noticed oil leaking from a Gas Chromatograph/Mass Spectrometer (GC-MS) instrument. A GC-MC machine measures the presence of selected chemicals in materials fed into it. His research of the GC-MC factory manuals found that oil in the GC-MC is contaminated with whatever’s being tested. That means toxic vapors could be emanating from the oil, into the breathing space of lab workers, who don’t wear protective gloves or respiratory protection as WRPS has never required it.

[…]

At one point the oil fell directly onto Lee’s hand.

“I broke out in a rash on my arms, my neck, my face,” said Lee. He said his overall  health has declined since working in the lab with leaking oil. “I can’t sleep at night. After my exposure I had a metallic taste in my mouth and I had a super bad headache….and I forget things a lot.”

According to a discrimination complaint filed against WRPS with the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Lee reported his concerns to many people at the company, including his direct manager and other managers present in lab meetings, the maintenance manager of the lab, the site wide manager of the lab, a field representative from the Defense Facilities Nuclear Safety Board, members of the Department of Energy’s Employee Concerns Council, the Employee Concerns Council manager, in addition to writing up a Problem Evaluation Request (PER) about inadequate venting in the lab. PER’s are designed to formally document a concern that is supposed to be addressed by the company.

Lee said after all that, nothing changed. Managers allegedly told him not to worry about it.

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