By Annette Carey
A bill that should help more ill Hanford nuclear reservation workers qualify for state worker compensation may soon be headed to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.
The bill would require the state’s worker compensation program to presume that a wide range of diseases were caused by occupational exposure at the nuclear reservation, rather that requiring employees to prove that it was Hanford exposure that made them sick.
That range of diseases includes:
- respiratory disease
- neurological disease
- chronic beryllium disease
- beryllium sensitization
- multiple cancersThe cancer list includes leukemia and some types of Hodgkin’s disease and cancers of the breast, stomach, lung, bone, pancreas, colon and liver, with some limitations. […]
Because of the secrecy surrounding Cold War production of plutonium at the site for the nation’s nuclear weapons program, the hazards that workers may have been exposed to through the years are not well documented,” said Tom Carpenter, executive director of Seattle-based Hanford Challenge, at a recent hearing of the state Senate Labor and Commerce Committee.
Workers could be exposed to radiation, asbestos, beryllium or other hazardous chemicals, he said.
“To prove exposure that happened 20 years ago does not make sense for these folks,” Carpenter said.
Since the House passed the bill last year, the Hanford nuclear reservation has had three emergencies, said Nickolas Bumpaous, government affairs director for union Local 598 and vice president of the Central Washington Building Trades Council.
A tunnel storing radioactive waste was discovered partially collapsed in May, and some workers inhaled or ingested radioactive particles in June and again at the end of the year as the site’s Plutonium Finishing Plant was being demolished.
Test results on 180 workers are pending after the most recent spread of radioactive contamination was detected in December.
The bill would cover workers who spend as little as one eight-hour shift at any of the many areas of the 580-square-mile site used for plutonium production for the nation’s nuclear weapons program or for cleanup of waste.
A single exposure to asbestos, for instance, can result in disease 50 years later, Hanford Challenge’s Carpenter pointed out.
Heart problems would also be covered if they are experienced within 72 hours of exposure to toxic substances.
The presumption that covered illnesses were caused by working at Hanford could be refuted by other evidence, under the provisions of the bill.
Evidence could include, but would not be limited to, smoking, physical fitness, lifestyle, family history and worker exposure to toxins at other jobs or in their personal life.
Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, spoke against passage of the bill before the Thursday night Senate vote.
The bill is well intentioned, Braun said. But creating a lifetime presumption that an illness was caused by working as little as eight hours at Hanford is too extreme, he added.