Media tours Hanford about chemical vapor issue

RICHLAND, Wash. -- After dozens of workers got sick in the past few months, Hanford opened its doors to the media for the first time. Washington River Protection Solutions and the DOE wanted to directly address the chemical vapor issue.

Despite an all-day tour, it did not offer the chance to speak to workers.

Taking a job at Hanford can come with risks. Especially for those working in a tank farm. The media was invited to tour the site, following months of reports of workers being exposed to chemical vapors. The tour was designed for our cameras and designed for limited questions. No workers were available to talk to, and the medical facility was closed.

We were shown the gear used for protection. Not everyone wears one of these Oxygen masks. They are hot and heavy. Most in the tank farms work in minimal gear. These white suits, rubber shoes and gloves, no mask.

So if workers are reporting exposure to chemical vapors at the site -- you might wonder why everyone isn't required to suit up in maximum protection? We were told heavy masks and Oxygen tanks create their own risks, like heat exhaustion. But 38 tank farm workers have reported smelling chemical vapors since March. Reps still can't explain it.

"Every indication that we have, our workers are not exposed to any vapors, but yet they're having symptoms, some of them are having some symptoms, and the question is why?" said WRPS base Operations Manager, Bob Wilkinson.

57,000 air samples have been taken in the past 7 years. The government reports none of these have shown a dangerous reading.
Reps hope a review being done on Hanford by the Savannah River National Lab will help answer these unanswered questions.

"There may be something else out there that we're not aware of that's part of the reason why we're asking this national lab and experts to kind of look at it," said Wilkinson.

Tour Leaders said everyone who reported smelling vapors has gone back to work. But some are still receiving medical treatment. Results on the vapor study should be out by the end of the year.

A Hanford health clinic official says medical science limits them from knowing more about the cause of sickness affecting the tank-farm workers.