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US senators call for probe into Hanford nuclear site’s comp claims

US senators call for probe into Hanford nuclear site’s comp claims

Two U.S. senators are calling for the U.S. Department of Energy to investigate the way workers compensation claims have historically been handled by the department’s third-party administrator at the Hanford nuclear site in Hanford, Washington. 

In a letter sent Wednesday, Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., asked that regulators look at the safety environment at Hanford and expand their investigation to “include a review of Penser North America Inc. … and the workers compensation claims process at Hanford,” according to the letter. 

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 on Japan in 1945. Today it is known as “the Hanford site.” 

Recent media reports shed light on the site’s toxic environment and experiences among former workers suffering from cancer and other ailments whose workers comp claims have allegedly lagged in response times and fulfillment. 

In the letter addressed to April Stephenson, the acting inspector general of the Energy Department, the senators wrote: “We have heard concerns from Hanford workers and labor unions about their experience with Penser inadequately addressing workers compensation claims following vapor exposures … Multiple accounts of workers compensation claims being dismissed on arbitrary grounds, tactics bordering on intimidation, and actions taken to discredit claims have been shared with us.” 

The letter also includes a list of seven questions to be addressed, many dealing with how medical providers are selected and how issues are documented. 

“Penser… welcomes a review by the Office of the Inspector General of the workers’ compensation processes and procedures,” a company spokeswoman said Thursday in a statement. “To date, the overall context of the media coverage regarding the process and Penser’s role has been significantly distorted, and there are several specific statements that have been made that are inaccurate and simply false.”

Wednesday’s letter follows the state House of Representatives’ recent passage of House Bill 1723, which would cover cancer and other illnesses under presumption for workers at the decommissioned nuclear site. The bill is now with the state Senate’s Commerce, Labor and Sports committee.

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