Chemical vapors at Hanford site raise questions

RICHLAND, Wash. -- A total of 18 Hanford workers have been treated for exposure to chemical vapors in just the past eight days. It has many wondering if there's a new threat at the tank farm site.

Tom Carpenter founded the group "Hanford Challenge." He says the organization has been focused on fighting for safety of Hanford workers for more than two decades. He's frustrated that more than one person was exposed at the same location recently.

"Some IH techs were sent out to check on some exposures that happened the day before, then they got sick. That's dumb. No way that should have ever happened," said Carpenter.

Carpenter has written two reports on how to get better conditions for workers. Still, he says it's not a surprise Hanford workers are getting sick this time of year.

"January, February, March, you start to see more vapor exposures happening, simply because the air is heavier. It doesn't move as much, so anything coming out of the tank stays around and has the opportunity to expose workers," he said.

Carpenter says there are thousands of chemicals in the Hanford tanks. Many can cause cancer.

That chemical cocktail can create harmful vapors, which led to the possible exposure of 18 workers in the last week. All of them but one were cleared to return to work, but Carpenter is not sold.

"They may not be looking for the right things. The result is they weren't exposed to anything, that's what is said, even though the symptoms would suggest otherwise," said Carpenter.

Hanford staff would not comment on camera but sent multiple news releases. One explained that a cut found in the insulation around a pump pit may have been the source of the vapor, but the investigation isn't over. Tom says one way to lower vapor emissions is to stack vents so that vapors aren't at ground level.

"It continues to happen. It's been Groundhog day at Hanford all over again. I'm sure workers feel the same way," said Carpenter.

Hanford says an additional worker was sent to get evaluated for possible chemical vapor exposure, but returned to work later in the afternoon. Managers held meetings with workers about the vapors.