'Historic' settlement reached over worker safety at Hanford nuclear waste site

VIDEO: Settlement over safety at Hanford nuclear site

SEATTLE — The federal government will pay $925,000 and improve worker safety to settle a lawsuit over exposure to chemical vapors at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Energy will test new technology to capture and destroy dangerous vapors that escape from nuclear waste storage tanks.

He says the settlement represents a major win for workers who have been getting sick for years.

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The state, Hanford Challenge and the pipefitters union Local 598 sued the Energy Department and its tank farm contractor in 2015 seeking better protection for workers.

The settlement puts that lawsuit on hold while the Energy Department test and implements a new system to capture and destroy vapors escaping waste tanks.

The tanks contain more than 50 million gallons of waste left from the past production of plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons program.

According to a news release from Ferguson's office, for the first time, the U.S. Department of Energy has agreed to:

  • Phased testing of new technology to capture and destroy tank vapors, and, if successful, implementation
  • Install a vapor monitoring, detection, and alarm system in the areas where vapor exposures are most likely to occur
  • Maintain current safety measures implemented after Ferguson's lawsuit, including supplied air and respirators, in place to keep workers safe during testing
  • Improve sharing of information regarding vapor events, worker protections, worker health monitoring, and medical surveillance
  • Pay Washington state and Hanford Challenge $925,000 to reimburse for costs and fees

KIRO 7 Reporter Essex Porter is following the story and will have live reports during our 5 p.m. newscast.

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