Worker challenges Hanford claim he wasn't exposed to toxic chemicals



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Posted on July 10, 2014 at 8:31 PM

Updated Friday, Jul 11 at 9:02 AM

RICHLAND, Wash.— Steve Ellingson still has a hard time catching his breath. And when he saw Hanford managers denied he had been exposed to chemical vapors, he found it hard to swallow.

The veteran Health Physics Technician said he hasn’t been able to take deep breaths since he was exposed to chemical vapors in a Hanford tank farm in March.

The farms are where millions of gallons of waste left over from production of the nation’s nuclear weapons are stored in underground tanks. Those tanks also contain large amounts of dangerous chemicals that form vapors. The vapors escape to the surface through ventilation pipes.

Related: Gov't: No evidence Hanford workers exposed to chemical vapors this year

On Wednesday Hanford tank farm managers demonstrated the clothing and equipment used to protect workers. They said their sophisticated monitors and samplers have not found any levels of chemicals that would rise to the definition of an exposure. They said the vapors disperse before reaching the breathing space of the workers.

Ellingson said he was exposed whether the equipment showed it or not. He said the gadgets do not test for every chemical that could be in the farms and are not attached to individual workers.

We asked the managers about that and they said it is true that not every worker carries sampling devices, there is always a technician near them who does. They are not denying the workers got ill from something but said they are confident any exposure would be detected. Bob Wilkinson, the Environmental Health and Safety Manager for tank farm contractor WRPS, said he had full confidence in the equipment.

Related: Watch KING 5's series: The human toll of Hanford's dirty secrets

Since KING 5’s investigation, which reported dozens of exposure claims by Ellingson and others, the Department of Energy and WRPS have sought an outside investigation from another federal laboratory.

The draft results from that investigation are expected in Late August or early September.

Ellingson said he doesn’t have much faith in that investigation or the detection equipment.