Union, watchdog groups to sue over worker safety at Hanford

Hanford
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PASCO, Wash. -- A union representing Hanford tank farm workers and two watchdog groups have joined up to

threaten a lawsuit

against the Department of Energy (DOE) and its contractor Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS) if safety issues are not improved.

The Steamfitters and Plumbers Union represents workers who tend to the 177 buried tanks at Hanford holding millions of gallons of chemical and nuclear waste.

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For decades workers have reported exposures to vapors that percolate up from the buried waste and are vented off on the surface.

WRPS and DOE managers earlier this year said they are using the best equipment on the market to test for emissions and they have never recorded an actual worker exposure.

Tom Carpenter of the group Hanford Challenge, which is one of the groups threatening to sue, said during a news conference at Union Headquarters in Pasco, that this March 16 workers reported exposures and the number grew to more than 50 throughout the spring and summer.

He said an independent evaluation of the current safety equipment and policies in the tank farms found them to be inadequate to protect workers.

DOE issued a statement Wednesday that it is in the process of implementing systems recommended in that study.

But Carpenter and union members said that they get the same kind of response every time they demand changes, but the improvements are rarely ever carried out.

The announcement of Thursday's threatened lawsuit comes one day after the Washington State Attorney General announced a similar intent to sue notice.

Both threatened lawsuits say workers deserve better protection while working around the tank farms.

Related story: Injured on the job, Hanford workers told 'you're fine'