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Hanford tank farm work halted by unions over safety concerns

Hanford-bigRICHLAND (July 12, 2016) — The Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council on Monday issued a stop-work order at the Hanford tank farms until workers are supplied with air respirators to protect them from toxic chemical vapors. Currently, the protective gear is required only on work around the older single-walled tanks, but the HAMTC coalition of 15 unions working at the nuclear reservation is demanding that air respirators be mandatory for all work — including around double-walled tank farms — after recent incidents of chemical leaks.

HAMTC President Dave Molnaa told The Tri-City Herald he would not lift the stop-work order until supplied air respirators are mandatory for all work in Hanford tank farms: “I am not backing off. At all. It is nonnegotiable.”

Company officials for Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS), the contractor that operates the tank farms for the U.S. Department of Energy, say they don’t believe the respirators are necessary around double-walled tanks.

More than 50 workers have needed medical checks in recent months after smelling suspicious odors or having respiratory issues where vapors were suspected to have been released, near both single-shell and double-shell tank farms. Although nearly all of them were cleared to return to work, the workers are concerned about the long-term lung and nervous system issues that could result from chemical exposure.

“I believe there is a safety risk to workers inside the tank farms,” Molnaa said.

Last week, WRPS asked HAMTC to make nights and weekend work the standard shifts at the tank farms, claiming it would reduce vapor exposure to workers. But if HAMTC agreed, employees would not receive the premium pay of one and a half times or double currently earned for the evening and weekend shifts.

HAMTCBoth HAMTC and WRPS have to reach agreement before lifting a stop-work order, although Molnaa says work can continue in the meantime if workers are using supplied air respirators.

For more information, read The Tri-City Herald’s coverage.

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