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Hanford workers were given leaky respirators at contaminated job site

March 22, 2020

March 22, 2020

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Industry News

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.”

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