Ferguson to fight for permanent solution at trial
OLYMPIA — Finding that, “given the preventative measures available and now mandated by the agreement of the parties, there is little to no chance of an imminent and substantial endangerment,” U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington Judge Thomas Rice today declined to require safety measures by court order in advance of trial. The federal government implemented those safety measures only after Attorney General Ferguson Bob Ferguson filed a motion for preliminary injunction with the court in July.
“I’m pleased the court recognized the importance of the safety measures that were implemented only after we filed our motion for emergency worker protections,” Ferguson said. “As we prepare for trial next year, I will be watching closely to make sure those protections remain in place.”
In his motion, Ferguson had asked the court to force the U.S. Department of Energy and its contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS), to implement enhanced safety and vapor monitoring measures at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation on an emergency basis. Following the AG’s filing, Energy and WRPS agreed to certain measures, which the court found sufficient to eliminate any imminent danger to workers.
Earlier this month, Judge Rice rejected Energy’s motion to dismiss the state’s lawsuit. A trial on the merits of the case is set for Sept. 18, 2017 before Judge Rice.
Hanford’s 177 underground storage tanks contain more than 50 million gallons of toxic waste, the byproducts of decades of plutonium production.
Over a span of just a few days in late April and early May 2016, at least 48 Hanford tank farm workers were exposed to vapors emitted from the tanks, with 56 exposed by the end of June. Within minutes to hours of breathing in these toxic fumes, workers experienced nosebleeds, chest and lung pain, headaches, coughing, sore throats, irritated eyes, and difficulty breathing.
The long term effects of these exposures are not yet fully known, but past vapor exposures from the tank farms have caused permanent lung damage and brain damage in workers, among other debilitating conditions.
Hundreds of workers have been similarly exposed since the early 1980s. Since that time, at least 19 reports have been issued about tank vapors and exposures, yet workers continue to get sick.
The Department of Energy’s own study, the Tank Vapors Assessment Team Report, completed just 18 months ago, again warned that not enough was being done to protect workers from harm. Yet instead of fully implementing its own recommendations from the report, Energy and WRPS reduced safety measures at the tank farms, including reductions in the use of supplied air.
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. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Peter Lavallee, Communications Director, (360) 586-0725; PeterL@atg.wa.gov