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The U.S. Department of Energy has agreed to pay Washington state $925,000 and conduct testing and begin implementation of a new system to treat or capture hazardous tank vapors at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation within the next three years, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Wednesday.
In 2015, Mr. Ferguson filed a lawsuit against the Department of Energy after “20 years of workers getting sick from vapor exposures despite multiple studies and reports, but little action from the federal government,” according to a statement. Wednesday’s agreement puts the suit on hold, according to the statement.
Under the terms of the agreement, submitted to a federal court Wednesday, the Department of Energy has agreed to a phased testing of new technology to capture and destroy tank vapors, and, if successful, implementation of the system; install a vapor-monitoring, detection and alarm system in the areas where vapor exposures are most likely to occur; and maintain current safety measures implemented after 2015, including supplied air and respirators in place to keep workers safe during testing, and improved sharing of information regarding vapor events, worker protections, worker health monitoring, and medical surveillance.
The agreement also calls for the federal government to reimburse the state $925,000 for protections already put in place.
Mr. Ferguson said that he may resume his lawsuit if the department fails to meet the terms of the agreement. This marks the first time in the history of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation that Energy will destroy or capture tank vapors at their source, thereby eliminating the hazard to workers, according to his statement.
“This is a major victory for the brave men and women working to clean up the Hanford Nuclear Reservation,” he said in the statement. “This is an historic outcome, but let’s be honest … it should not have required a lawsuit to get the federal government to do the right thing.”
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.