Two areas at the Hanford nuclear waste site were evacuated Thursday morning after workers detected toxic vapors.
Six workers received medical attention after inhaling the vapors; five of whom experienced symptoms typically associated with exposure to chemical vapors, according to Washington River Protection Solutions, the company that manages the Hanford tank farms.
This brings to 34 the number of people who’ve needed medical treatment since March 19 at the site.
WRPS said one of the six was sent to Kadlec Medical Center in Richland for further evaluation, and a second worker requested an evaluation at the hospital. Both were examined without being admitted, the company said.
KING 5 has learned that a seventh worker experienced symptoms Thursday after the exposure in the AP tank farm, but chose not to go to the on-site medical facility for evaluation.
At 9:23 a.m. an order was issued to evacuate from the AP tank farm. Two hours later workers in the SY farm were evacuated. The two farms are located about 10 miles apart in the Hanford Site's Central Plateau region.
More than 150 tanks at Hanford hold a highly toxic and radioactive mix of liquids and sludge that was generated during 40 years of plutonium production at the site. Much of the waste is highly volatile and produces gaseous emissions dangerous to workers.
The U.S. Department of Energy, which owns Hanford, and WRPS have pledged to do more to protect workers since the rash of exposures began in March, but workers who’ve spoken to KING are dissatisfied with what they say is a lax approach to safety and few improvements added at the site to keep them from getting sick.
On Wednesday, May 28 WRPS sent a notice to managers in the field, alerting them that an "increase in odors may be possible" in the AP farm due to a planned disturbance of the waste held in the underground tanks. Yet wearing personal protective gear, such as respirators, remained voluntary.
"It's not going to stop. As long we we're not wearing masks, this will keep happening and people will still get sick. It's because of the money. It costs money and slows down the work to have everyone on masks," said one Hanford worker. "Money should not be more important than health, but that's the way it is."
UPDATE, May 30: WRPS issued a statement on Friday saying the two workers examined at Kadlec Medical Center were cleared to return to work.