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Advocates seek benefits for workers with leaky respirators at Hanford

March 25, 2020

March 25, 2020

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Industry News

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

Patrick Malone
Seattle Times staff reporter

A national advocacy group for sickened nuclear workers plans to push the federation government to recognize Hanford employees who wore faulty respirators for years as eligible for financial benefits.

A Seattle Times investigation on Sunday revealed that CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Company supplied 560 cleanup workers at Hanford’s highly contaminated Plutonium Finishing Plant with modified respirators that leaked between 2012 and October 2016. But the company acknowledged alerting only 150 of them, and not telling workers who had left the company before the flaw was discovered in late 2016.

Changes made to the respirators were intended to secure air filters, which frequently were knocked askew in tight working conditions. But the round, rubber “bumper guards” that were installed on the units at Hanford were not approved by federal regulators or the respirator’s manufacturer, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Seattle Times.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in a statement she was “deeply disturbed to learn some of (the workers’) equipment was modified in such a way that jeopardized the safety of hundreds of workers, many who are just learning of their potential exposure.”

“We must get to the bottom of this to understand exactly what happened and put the right policies in place to prevent future missteps that might cause harm — whether at Hanford, or on the frontlines of our current crisis.”

“I will continue to work with our state and federal partners, as well as contractors, to ensure each and every man and woman at the Hanford site is guaranteed the safest working conditions,” U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, whose district includes Hanford, said in a statement.

While Murray and Newhouse didn’t specify steps to help the affected workers, an advocacy organization did.

Terrie Barrie, of the nationwide Alliance of Nuclear Worker Advocacy Groups, which helps nuclear installation workers who get sick from on-the-job exposures, said Tuesday she plans to petition the federal Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (EEOICP) to designate workers at the Plutonium Finishing Plant who wore the faulty respirators as candidates for benefits.

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