Nuclear site workers test thousands of air samples

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 9, 2014 at 7:04 pm •  Published: July 9, 2014
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RICHLAND, Wash. (AP) — About 12,000 air samples taken on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation this year after more than three dozen workers reported being sickened by chemical vapors have failed to find a cause for the problem, Hanford officials said Wednesday.

But Hanford officials said that doesn't mean that workers aren't getting sick.

"Our workers are not exposed to vapors, but they are having symptoms," said Tom Fletcher of the U.S. Department of Energy, which manages Hanford. "The question is: 'Why?' "

"This isn't something we are taking lightly," Fletcher said.

None of the 12,000 air samples taken this year showed chemical levels above occupational-exposure limits, Fletcher said. In fact, more than 50,000 air samples dating back to 2007 found no chemical exposure above the allowable limits, he said.

Hanford officials are hoping an investigation being conducted by the Savannah River National Laboratory might shed light on what is causing the illnesses. A draft of that report is due by October.

Hanford for more than four decades made plutonium for nuclear weapons, and it now contains the nation's greatest volume of nuclear waste. Much of the waste is stored in 177 giant underground storage tanks. It is workers at those tanks who are reporting smelling chemical vapors and then falling ill.

This year, 38 workers have sought treatment after reporting exposure to chemical vapors. Some of the workers reported irritation in their eyes, nose or throat, or a metallic taste in their mouth, Hanford officials said during a media briefing on Wednesday.

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