Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 
Feb 10 2015

SEATTLE — Attorney General Bob Ferguson today commented on the release by a U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) contractor of an Implementation Plan for Hanford Tank Vapor Assessment Report Recommendations.

“My office is reviewing this latest USDOE plan, which comes in the wake of a report by the federal government’s own expert panel finding evidence that ‘strongly suggests a causal link between chemical vapor release and subsequent adverse health effects’ on Hanford workers,” said Attorney General Ferguson. “I intend to hold the federal government accountable to their responsibility to maintain a safe work environment for Washingtonians.”

On November 19, 2014, Attorney General Ferguson sent USDOE a Notice of Endangerment and Intent to Sue (pdf), alleging that vapors escaping from Hanford waste storage tanks “present an imminent and substantial endangerment to health and the environment.” The federal government has not formally responded to the Attorney General’s notice.

Background 

The Hanford site in Washington is a World War II- and Cold War-era nuclear reservation operated by the U.S. federal government in southeastern Washington. Hanford’s 586 square miles currently house some 56 million gallons of nuclear waste in 177 underground tanks — enough to fill roughly 88 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Most of these tanks are of single-shell construction, and many have leaked.

A federal court consent decree and the Hanford Tri-Party Agreement require USDOE to retrieve and treat Hanford’s tank waste and safely close Hanford’s unfit-for-use single-shell tanks. Workers are primarily exposed to hazardous Hanford tank vapors while working around these single-shell tanks, especially during retrieval operations. USDOE and its contractors have a 20-year history of studying the tank vapors problem, but problems persist and workers continue to experience adverse health impacts.

On June 20, 2014, in response to increasing reports of workers falling ill after vapor exposure, Governor Inslee and Attorney General Ferguson wrote to the Secretary of Energy urging an independent assessment of the safety of workers who may be exposed to chemical vapors or fumes emitted from tanks at Hanford.

USDOE, through the Savannah River National Laboratory, commissioned an independent expert panel to prepare such an assessment, resulting in the Oct. 30, 2014 Hanford Tank Vapor Assessment Report. Today, USDOE contractor Washington River Protection Solutions released an Implementation Plan for Hanford Tank Vapor Assessment Report Recommendations.

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The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Attorney General Bob Ferguson is working hard to protect consumers and seniors against fraud, keep our communities safe, protect our environment and stand up for our veterans. Visit  www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.

Contact:
Peter Lavallee, Communications Director, (360) 586-0725; PeterL@atg.wa.gov