Reports from the Hanford nuclear site, show no less than 17 workers there are sick after being exposed to toxic fumes over the last seven days. Investigations are under way as the facility attempts to locate the source of the fumes, as well as identify what type of waste workers were exposed to. One concern for investigators is that the fumes may be coming from multiple sources. Several have been hospitalized and are making slow progress in their recoveries.
The first reports of sickness were from two employees Wednesday, March 19, who said they breathed in fumes that were described as tasting like “copper.” The two are still suffering from symptoms such as coughing, nose bleeds and difficulty breathing, now seven days after encountering the fumes. Sources inside Hanford tell reporters they are concerned about the duration of the symptoms, saying they have not seen symptoms last this long and that this is extremely “unusual.”
The sick men are government contractors employed by Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS). The company has been placed in charge of working with the underground storage tanks used to hold hazardous waste at the site. There are currently 177 of these tanks located at the Hanford facility.
News reporters were on their way to the Hanford nuclear site to report on the two sick workers when they discovered several more employees were sick with similar symptoms. At least 15 more were sick from fume inhalation by Wednesday, March 26. Those workers have been shuttled to the Occupational Health Services unit (HPMC), an on-site facility where they received medical treatment. Areas at the site where other many other employees were working had to be evacuated. The area in the sites tank farm, known as AY-AZ, is where several workers were when they encountered the fumes. The others were working in a different tank farm, S-SX, located nearly 10 miles away from the tank farm where the others breathed in fumes. Multiple areas at the site are now being treated as Vapor Control Zones.
Two men from a unit that monitors chemical exposures, known as the Industrial Hygiene Department, were deployed to investigate the matter when they too were affected by the fumes and immediately were in need of medical attention and transport to the HPMC. It is still uncertain why those men were not wearing protective respirators, as reports have suggested.
With employees sick from wide spread areas throughout the facility, sources inside the Hanford nuclear site say officials are not underestimating the severity of the situation there. Questions are being raised by employees at the site, as to why added monitoring equipment has not been installed in the tank farm areas. Workers also told reporters that they have made several requests to WRPS to “put in monitors,” that detect chemical releases and they have been told plans for this are “in the works.”
WRPS has stated that monitors are being used to detect chemical releases. How these monitors did not detect the fumes at the Hanford nuclear waste site where 17 employees are sick, is still uncertain.
By Aaron Thompson