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Plutonium clean-up workers at Hanford had inadequate protection from contamination

Hanford workers were given leaky respirators at contaminated job site, contractor’s documents reveal https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/times-watchdog/hanford-workers-were-given-leaky-respirators-at-contaminated-job-site-contractors-documents-reveal/?fbclid=IwAR18g7iwSGZJNg63q1UKl8nmUbzP4WF0JD7pqTMte9_IVRDXwM5JoCZcESA

March 25, 2020 By Patrick Malone and Hal Bernton Seattle Times staff reporters

RICHLAND, Benton County — Bill Evans Jr. worked on the front lines of the Hanford cleanup. He supervised crews tasked with dismantling tanks, uncoupling pipes and painting over surfaces to stanch the spread of radioactive particles inside some of the most hazardous buildings at the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site.

To keep themselves safe, they donned full-body protective suits, sometimes two. Battery-charged respirators hung by their sides, circulating filtered air through breathing tubes and into hoods.

In May 2016, seven years into his Hanford career, Evans had a seizure on his lunch break that left him dazed. It was the first of many that forced him to stop working. Since then, repeated seizures have overtaken his life, resulting in falls that dislocated his jaw, fractured his spine and sent him crashing through a glass pane that gashed his head and required 30 stitches.

Evans, 45, is convinced that the sudden onset of his illness was linked to his job. Last year, he got a surprising clue about what might have gone wrong. A document from his old employer, slipped to him by a colleague, stated that a respirator cartridge Evans frequently used had a bad seal caused by changes made to the gear at Hanford, and possibly exposed him to radioactive and chemical contamination.

“I was floored, surprised and angry,” Evans said. “Because I trusted that equipment. That equipment was my lifeline.”

Evans was one of an estimated 560 workers at the Plutonium Finishing Plant between 2012 and October 2016 who wore respirator gear that may have leaked, according to documents obtained by The Seattle Times. The project contractor, CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Company, told workers on the job site about the safety lapse, which was also detailed in a November 2016 letter to be placed in affected workers’ medical files.

But the contractor did not directly reach out to workers, like Evans, who had already left the job, according to a spokesman for CH2M Hill. The letter ended up in the files of only 150.

UPDATE

In response to a Seattle Times investigation, advocates seek benefits for workers who wore leaky respirators at Hanford

March 26, 2020 - Posted by | - plutonium, health, USA

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