Hanford workers in Eastern Washington report for duty to the most contaminated worksite in America. Yet when they become ill from known hazards at the site, historically it has been a fight to the tooth and nail to get compensation under the state’s worker compensation process.
A bill dropped on Thursday aims to help Hanford workers diagnosed with certain diseases get the care they need. The illnesses include respiratory disease, heart problems experienced after an exposure to toxic chemicals, neurological diseases such as occupational induced dementia, and certain cancers. HB 1723, sponsored by Rep. Larry Haler (R-Richland), would grant the workers a presumption that they contracted their disease in the workplace.
This bill is fashioned after similar legislation passed in 1987 that gave firefighters in Washington state a presumption of certain occupational diseases.
“Currently, many Hanford workers are not receiving necessary medical care because they are put in the impossible situation of being unable to specify the chemicals to which they have been exposed, and in what concentrations, making it difficult for their doctors to connect their disease with their exposures,” said Randy Walli, Business Manager for the pipefitters union, Local 598.
Even when physicians have concluded that a Hanford worker’s illness is due to his or her work at the nuclear site, the labor and industries process, managed by the U.S. Dept. of Energy and its contractor, Penser North America, makes it nearly impossible for the claim to be approved. This unfair, decades-old problem is detailed in studies dating back to at least 2006 and in dozens of worker interviews conducted by KING 5.
Hanford is the biggest nuclear dump in the United States. It has one of the largest inventories of radioactive and chemically contaminated nuclear waste in the world – left behind by more than four decades of plutonium production for the country’s nuclear weapons program.
A hearing on HB 1723 could take place as early as next week.