33 Hanford workers evaluated for smelling vapors; Gov. Inslee speaks out

FILE - This July 9, 2014 file photo shows a sign that says "Where Safety Comes First", which welcomes visitors to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland, Wash. A Department of Energy contractor is checking after more waste leaked from the inner tank of a double-shell waste storage tank at the reservation over the weekend of April 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

HANFORD, Wash. -- Thirty-three Hanford workers evaluated for possible vapor exposure in just 5 days. It's an alarming number concerning both the Department of Energy and the Governor.

For Governor Jay Inslee, hearing 33 Hanford workers reported smelling what may be toxic vapors in just 5 days strikes a cord.

"I take this personally. I used to represent the Tri-Cities. These are great people, they deserve to be able to work safely, and we wanna make sure that happens," explained Gov. Inslee.

Even with strict protocols and regulations in place, workers keep coming forward, nervous for their health.

Six more Hanford workers reported smelling odors in the AP tank farm where officials collected samples Tuesday. Washington River Protection Solutions says crews transported one worker to Kadlec for further evaluation. Doctors treated and released the employee.

Both the state and the federal government agree something has to change.

"We obviously want to provide protection against vapors at the Hanford site. We are going what we can in the state to provide incentive and assistance to do that. I think that's important. There is litigation the Attorney General has filed to make sure that the federal government is observant to protect these workers. Very important," stressed the Governor.

"We've implemented vapor control zone, we're looking at the situation, we're working through the process of identifying additional controls and mechanisms that can further protect and prevent odors," said WRPS's Carrie Meyer.

More than a couple dozen workers reported symptoms that point to vapor exposure. Medical crews checked another seven as a precaution. Most returned to work after medical checks.

"The department takes the safety of it's workers, the public, and the environment very seriously," said Meyer.

The smells and symptoms reported last week were suspected of being connected to the transfer of radioactive waste from the AY Tank Farm to the AP Tank Farm. Officials stopped that work to allow new equipment to be installed in the AY-102 Tank, which is being emptied because of an interior leak.

Robert Roxburgh, WRPS representative says the six workers who reported the odors Tuesday did so at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. outside the tank farms. Access to the tank farm area where the odors were reported is restricted and samples are being tested, says Roxburgh.

Roxburgh said in a news release,

Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS) has taken a number of steps to manage the hazards posed by chemical vapors. These steps include engineered controls, setting up restricted areas where known vapor sources exist, training employees to strict procedures and supplying workers with protective equipment, up to use of a self-contained breathing apparatus supplied with bottled air.

The workers were not wearing respiratory protection and Roxburgh says they were not required to since they were outside of the tank farm.

The chemical vapors are created from the radioactive and chemical waste that is stored in the tanks, according to Roxburgh.

The Hanford site is working to make the tank farms safer, says Roxburgh, after an independent lab assessed the dangers and offered a plan for making the site safer.

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