RICHLAND — A South Carolina lab will lead an independent review of chemical fumes reported by workers at waste storage tanks at the nation's most contaminated nuclear weapons site in Washington.
Washington River Protection Solutions, a contractor, asked the Savannah River National Laboratory to provide a broader analysis and recommendations for the Hanford Nuclear Reservation than previous reviews in 2008 and 2010.
The U.S. Energy Department supports the review to resolve questions raised this spring after more than two dozen workers received medical attention following apparent exposure to chemical vapors at the nuclear reservation in eastern Washington, the Tri-City Herald reported.
The fumes that vent from the underground tanks have been a concern for two decades. A number of safety steps have been taken in recent years, but the latest exposures show more needs to be done, said Dave Olson, president of Washington River Protection Solutions.
The independent team will look at the technology used to protection against contact with vapors and additional technology that can test the personal breathing space of individual workers.
Now, after vapors are smelled and industrial hygienists try to detect them, fumes often have dispersed into the air, said Kevin Smith, manager of the Energy Department's Hanford Office of River Protection.
Hanford's 177 underground tanks hold 56 million gallons of radioactive and chemical waste left over from nuclear weapons production from World War II through the Cold War. So far, the cleanup has cost some $40 billion, and officials estimate it will cost $115 billion more.