A Hanford worker who was sickened by exposure to chemical vapors on March 19 was exposed to another unknown substance Wednesday, prompting a trip to Hanford’s on-site medical clinic.
Sources told KING 5 that the worker, who missed approximately 10 days of work after March 19 and is under a physician's order to avoid lung irritants on the job, had trouble breathing after working in an area that was not free of aggravating substances.
The sources said the worker was taken to HPMC, the on-site medical clinic at Hanford, where he was evaluated, released and declared fit to return to work on Thursday, despite his continued breathing problems. The medical professionals told the worker that he is to stay indoors Thursday and work at a desk, the sources said.
Twenty-six workers have been transported to the hospital or HPMC after detecting chemical vapors in different Hanford waste tank farms. The Department of Energy and its contractors at the site have insisted that worker safety is a top priority and that the affected workers were evaluated by independent health experts before being returned to duty.
Sources told KING 5 that the worker who had problems on Wednesday was surprised that he was assigned to a shop where he could be exposed to lung irritants after reporting his doctor's orders and his ongoing symptoms.
“I think they’re risking people’s health because it’s like they don’t think anyone [exposed recently] has a health problem. It’s like they think we’re crying wolf,” said one worker who was exposed in March. "It’s like we all feel like we have the flu, but we have to work because we’ve used up all of our vacation time.”
The 586-square-mile Hanford Site is home to 177 tanks holding the waste generated by more than four decades of plutonium production -- a messy process that involved using caustic chemicals to dissolve nuclear reactor fuel rods to extract small amounts of plutonium. Twenty-five years after plutonium production ceased at the site, 56 million gallons of highly radioactive chemical waste remains to be treated for long-term storage. Much of the waste actively emits gas, which is vented through filters designed to remove radioactive particles. Chemicals, however, often pass through.
Two Hanford workers who spoke to KING 5 for a story that aired on Tuesday said today that they continue to feel physical effects of breathing chemical vapors. Becky Holland did not work today, but Steve Ellingson returned to work for the first time since March 19. Ellingson was assigned desk work