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Presumptive comp bill for nuclear site workers moves forward

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A bill that would cover cancer and other illnesses under presumption for workers at the decommissioned Hanford nuclear site in Hanford, Washington, is now in the hands of the state Senate after passing the House on Friday on a 69-29 vote. 

The federally operated site, which has gone by several names since it opened in 1943, is known for having manufactured the plutonium used in one of the atomic bombs dropped in Japan in 1945. Today, as well as in House Bill 1723, it is known as “the Hanford site.” 

Recent media reports shed light on the site’s toxic smells and anecdotes of former workers suffering from cancer and other ailments.

The bill, introduced by state Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, a former 40-year employee at the site, would establish presumption under the state’s workers compensation laws for workers who suffer from specific cancers, including leukemia, lung cancer, bone cancer, kidney cancer, lymphoma and other cancers affecting more than a dozen body parts, according to the House-approved draft of the proposal legislation.

Several changes were made to the bill since it was first introduced, including the addition of clauses related to hereditary diseases and lifestyle choices: “This presumption of occupational disease may be rebutted by clear and convincing evidence. Such evidence may include, but is not limited to, use of tobacco products, physical fitness and weight, lifestyle, hereditary factors, and exposure from other employment or non-employment activities.” 

The bill covers any worker or contractor who worked on-site for more than one eight-hour shift. 

Without a presumption law, workers who suffered from cancer and other illness have had to prove their illness arose out of employment. 

The bill was sent to the Senate’s Commerce, Labor and Sports committee Monday.