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Retaliation and harassment is very, very real at Hanford

whistleblowerEx-Hanford nuclear facility employee gravely ill after inhaling toxic fumes Nuclear worker: ‘Retaliation is very real at Hanford’  Susannah Frame, KING5.com,  July 29, 2016 A veteran worker at the Hanford Site says he was harassed, isolated and reassigned to cleaning tasks after he made repeated attempts to bring attention to safety problems in the lab where he works.

“Retaliation and harassment is very, very real at Hanford and that’s a fact. I lived it and I’m living it right now,” said Dave Lee, an instrument technician assigned to the 222-S Lab at Hanford. “I’m cleaning closets and I’m replacing filters and if that’s not degrading and retaliatory, explain to me what is.”

Ex-Hanford nuclear facility employee gravely ill after inhaling toxic fumes

The 222 S Lab is a 70,000 square foot facility operated by the U.S. Department of Energy’s contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS). Work in the lab consists of analyzing samples of lethal radioactive nuclear waste taken from underground storage tanks.

Technicians also analyze vapors captured from the headspaces of the tanks. The vapors contain a mix of poisonous chemicals that were used to extract plutonium from spent fuel rods. Production took place at Hanford from the 1940s through the 1980s to support the country’s nuclear weapons program. Since then, work at the site has been exclusively dedicated to cleanup – one of biggest environmental remediation projects in the world.

Since last November, Lee says he’s repeatedly brought up safety concerns related to a piece of machinery used to analyze vapors. He noticed oil leaking from a Gas Chromatograph/Mass Spectrometer (GC-MS) instrument. A GC-MC machine measures the presence of selected chemicals in materials fed into it.

His research of the GC-MC factory manuals found that oil in the GC-MC is contaminated with whatever is being tested. That means toxic vapors could be emanating from the oil, into the breathing space of lab workers, who don’t wear protective gloves or respiratory protection as WRPS has never required it.

According to the Clarus 560/600 MS Hardware Guide: “When using toxic samples, the mechanical pump oil is toxic waste….If you were running toxic samples, the oil is contaminated as toxic waste. Handle and dispose of waste oil appropriately.”

“I come to find out this roughing pump oil is part of the process stream (which means it’s in contact with contaminated substances),” said Lee. “I was mad (when I found out)……..

According to a discrimination complaint filed against WRPS with the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Lee reported his concerns to many people, including his direct manager and other managers present in lab meetings, the maintenance manager of the lab, the site wide manager of the lab, a field representative from the Defense Facilities Nuclear Safety Board, members of the Department of Energy’s Employee Concerns Council, the Employee Concerns Council manager, in addition to writing up a Problem Evaluation Request (PER) about inadequate venting in the lab. PERs are designed to formally document a concern that is supposed to be addressed by the company.

Lee said after all that, nothing changed. Managers allegedly told him not to worry about it.

“’This is common practice, Dave. You’re fine,’” was the alleged response.

That led to a more dramatic action. On May 2, Lee issued what is called a stop work action at the lab. All Hanford workers have the right to shut work down if they feel the conditions are unsafe. Lee wanted no work to take place with the oil until it was fully analyzed to ascertain if it were indeed hazardous. The next day, WRPS human resources asked for his badge. He was sent home, placed on “investigative removal” for allegations of “extremely serious misconduct”……..

According to a newly released report from the Government Accountability Office, which is the investigative arm of Congress, Dave Lee’s experience isn’t isolated. The investigators found the U.S. Department of Energy routinely allows “unlawful retaliation” perpetrated by its contractors at sites such as Hanford.

“It’s clear the Department of Energy contractors are going to go to amazing lengths to send a signal to their employees that when you blow the whistle it is going to be the end of your career,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) in response to the GAO findings………

Pattern at Hanford

Hanford has been embroiled in high-profile whistleblower retaliation cases in recent years. ……..http://www.king5.com/news/local/investigations/nuclear-worker-retaliation-is-very-real-at-hanford/283622616

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July 30, 2016 - Posted by | civil liberties, USA

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