Monday, April 12, 2004

DOE To Hanford Clean-up Workers: “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

Workers cleaning up toxic and radioactive wastes at the Hanford nuclear reservation are nervous about speed-ups and allegations of covering up work-related illnesses, and are concerned that the vapors they inhale may be making them sick.
A 1997 draft report by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory concluded that the risk of contracting cancer from exposure to the vapors could be as high as 1.6 in 10.

In the industrial world, normal risk is for one worker in 10,000 to contract cancer from exposures in the workplace, according to Tim Jarvis, a former researcher at the laboratory and peer reviewer of the report. Jarvis now is a private consultant often contracted by the Government Accountability Project.

"The report shows that exposure to tank vapors is extremely hazardous and will most likely lead to fatal cancers in the workers if exposure is continued," Jarvis said.
But, don’t worry, say the Department of Energy and the contractor in charge of the clean-up:
CH2M Hill, the Colorado-based contractor hired to handle cleanup, and the Energy Department, which manages the cleanup, say most of the chemicals are diluted and pose no danger to workers. Only three - ammonia, nitrous oxide and butanol - have been found in the tanks' air cavities at levels exceeding occupation exposure limits, CH2M Hill said.

"No one has received a toxic dose of these chemicals," said Rob Barr, director of environment safety and quality for the Energy Department's Office of River Protection.

"We are concerned and they should be concerned," Barr said. But, he added, "We have a very high assurance that there are no long-term effects of the chemicals that are out there, because they are at such a low level."

CH2M Hill says the rising number of exposures are, in part, a result of educating workers about vapors and encouraging them to report unusual smells.
Yeah, that’s the problem with educating workers: it just results in exposure to toxic chemicals. Better to keep them in the dark.

Makes sense to me…