Hanford Vapors: It's Still Difficult To Track Down The Fix

Jul 10, 2014

The federal government led a bus load of journalists to points across the Hanford nuclear site. Officials wanted to show off what they’re doing to keep workers safe from chemical vapors. Since the spring a run of workers have needed medical attention from vapor exposure. Correspondent Anna King was on the bus, and files this report.

Handheld air monitors are used in the Hanford Nuclear Reservation's tank farms to help keep workers safe. But a human nose can detect far less concentrated chemicals, than this high-tech machinery. It's one of the reasons tracking down the vapor problems at the tank farms is so hard.
Credit Anna King / Northwest News Network

Top-level Hanford managers smile and don the protective outfits needed at the site’s tank farms. They’re the white jumpsuit variety, like you see in the movies. Tapped up booties, check. Canned air, check.

This is where Hanford stores the sludgy leftovers from making plutonium during WWII and the Cold War. But the farms are on a bad press roll lately. With an increasing number of workers complaining of: Sore throats, trouble breathing and headaches. Some say their bosses aren’t doing enough. Tom Fletcher is one of those tank farm managers.

He takes this media-day opportunity to say managers don’t want to make their workers clumsy or overheated with too much protective gear. But they still want them safe.

Air monitors like this one have taken 12,000 air samples since March. None have tipped the federal scale for too much worker exposure. Still, experts here admit the human nose is way more sensitive than even their best machines.

Hanford officials say a draft federal study on the vapor problem at the site’s tank farms goes public this fall. July 19 in Richland, Hanford workers will share their experiences with chemical vapors at a public meeting.

Copyright 2014 Northwest News Network