Hanford workers contaminated in highly unusual accident
A team of workers at the Hanford Site was contaminated with radioactive nuclear waste on Tuesday morning. The group was working within one of the facility's tank farms, areas where highly lethal liquid nuclear waste is stored in massive underground tanks.
Approximately 15 workers were scrubbed in specialized showers as per decontamination protocol after radioactive waste accidentally came into contact with them. Workers report waste was on ears, clothing, hands, and respiratory protective gear. The employees were also put through tests to see if they had been contaminated internally.
The workers are employees of Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS), the private contractor that manages millions of gallons of nuclear waste at Hanford.
The event is significant in that if people are contaminated with even traces of radioactive particles, the adverse health effects can be devastating.
KING 5 has learned that one employee, a health physics technician, who was not present at the site of the spill, also became contaminated from driving affected colleagues to a decontamination location.
No one who the KING 5 Investigators spoke with could remember a spill of this magnitude in recent memory.
"This is the biggest contamination event involving the Hanford tank farms in decades. Ten workers got radioactive contamination on their skin, their hair, their clothes, they had to give up their clothes. This was a preventable accident," said Tom Carpenter, Executive Director of the public interest worker advocacy group, Hanford Challenge. "Workers should not have to endure such working conditions in 2016. Something is really wrong."
WRPS issued the following statement about Tuesday's event:
"Several workers were found to have skin contamination today while performing work at Hanford's AX Tank Farm. The workers, who were wearing protective clothing at the time, were sent to decontamination stations where external contamination was removed. While carrying out the job, low levels of radioactivity were discovered in the work area and workers left the tank farm. No contamination was identified outside the immediate work area. Access to the tank farm is restricted," wrote Rob Roxburgh of WRPS.