28 June 2010

Video of Seattle Workshop!

Thanks to Mike McCormick of KEXP for taping the public workshop at the University Heights Community Center last Thursday, June 24th. Representatives from the Department of Energy, Washington Department of Ecology and the Environmental Protection Agency and the public discussed the new geographic approach to cleanup on Hanford's Central Plateau; delays to retrieving Transuranic (i.e. plutonium contaminated) waste at Hanford; and who should draft decision documents for how cleanup is done.

The public comment period on these changes and delays ends on Wednesday, June 30th! For more background information, visit www.hoanw.org. Email your comments to TPACH@rl.gov.

21 June 2010

Public workshops on the Hanford Cleanup Agreement in Portland and Seattle this week!

Wednesday, June 23rd; 7-9pm
Portland State University Student Union, Rooms 327-328
1825  SW Broadway, Portland, OR 97207
DOE will provide parking vouchers for on-campus parking

Thursday, June 24th; 7-9pm
University Heights Community Center, Room 209
5031 University Way NE, Seattle WA 98105
Free parking in the lot at the Center

Please join us at our offices for a brief open house immediately preceding the Seattle workshop!  Our offices are just 4 blocks from the U Heights Center, located at 1314 NE 56th St, Suite 100.  We'll have food and beverages from 5:45-6:30pm, and we hope to see you!

For background on each of the agenda items to be covered at the workshops, review Heart of America Northwest's briefing booklet by downloading it from our website.  We'll have copies at both workshops!

15 June 2010

Hanford's Vitrification Plant at a Pivot Point

The Deputy Secretary of Energy, Daniel Poneman, visited Hanford's Waste Treatment Plant yesterday.  The Waste Treatment Plant, also called the vitrification plant, or the "vit" plant for short, is a massive public works project on the Hanford Site which will turn the 53 million gallons of High-Level Nuclear Waste into glass.  The vitrification process does not reduce radioactivity, but it converts the liquid/sludge waste into glass logs, which are more stable in the environment.

The vitrification plant project, historically, has been fraught with budget and design issues and delays. Below you can view a 60 Minutes expose of some of the design issues from a few years ago:

Thankfully, many of the technical issues previously identified have been resolved.  One outstanding issue remains - a technical issue with designing equipment for mixing the wastes, reports Annette Cary of the Tri-City Herald.  Department of Energy Headquarters recently has taken more interest in oversight of the project, exemplified by Poneman's visit this week and the appointment of a new federal project manager earlier this spring.

For more information about technical and budget issues with the Waste Treatment Plant, read the Government Accountability Office's 2006 congressional testimony (pdf).  Here's a graph from the testimony of the ballooning budget as of 2006.  The budget is now $12.2 billion:

Completing the Waste Treatment Plant on a reasonable schedule (the most recent delays pushed back the "hot-start" date to 2019), maintaining its budget, and ensuring that it will function as planned are all in the public's interest to protect the environment and human health.  The High-Level Nuclear Waste, currently stored in underground tanks which have leaked over one million gallons, is one of Hanford's greatest threats to the environment and public health, and the Waste Treatment Plant is the major effort to address these wastes.  The Department of Energy has acknowledged this, and Poneman reiterated this yesterday, saying, "This project is really important to the nation. It's really important to the department. It is really important to the secretary.  We are committed to fulfilling our obligations to the state."

14 June 2010

Report Recommends Moving Forward, but Identifies a Number of Weaknesses in Beryllium Program

The report released June 2nd detailed a 4-month investigation into Hanford's program to address the health problems caused by beryllium. The metal is found residually in buildings, left over from the days when Hanford produced nuclear materials for the Manhattan Project, and causes serious health injuries such as chronic beryllium disease. Workers exposed to beryllium can develop a sensitivity to the metal, which restricts where they can work and, out of medical necessity, can force them out of jobs they may have held successfully for many years.

The report found that many buildings were inadequately marked with beryllium content, leaving workers in danger of inhaling contaminants without their knowledge. The program often failed to address changes in beryllium levels, which can occur as the dust is easily disturbed. Further flaws included insufficient medical attention for workers and a lack of diagnoses of new illnesses, two factors which inhibit efforts to understand the disease and the ability to adapt policies and treatment with this knowledge. Also, the report noted a breakdown of communication across the site that prevented standardized assessment of beryllium levels.

U.S. Department of Energy's Ines Triay emphasizes commitment to improvement and the dedication to "make sure our corrective actions not only are robust but they stay the course."

The report's provisions for the future included setting detailed standards for beryllium levels and contamination and requiring increased attention to fluctuations that can easily occur in these levels. It paid specific attention to medical treatment, urging increased analysis of new cases in order to assess and improve the protection program.

Heart of American Northwest supports the USDOE report's specific recommendations for the future and its function as a step towards increased transparency. We see the clarity and availability of the investigation as important in opening up communication. If we and the public commit to supporting change we believe we can improve the health standards for workers as part of our dedication to making Hanford a safe and rehabilitated place.

To hear KPLU's Anna King's report on chronic beryllium disease, click http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/kplu/news.newsmain/article/0/1/1658583/KPLU.Local.News/Hanford.Officials.Criticized.for.Lack.of.Focus.on.Beryllium

To read the full USDOE inspection report on the Hanford beryllium program, click

To read our other posts on the beryllium program and investigation at Hanford, follow

02 June 2010

Hanford Beryllium Exposure Investigation Released Today

Affected Workers and Advocates Will Respond To Issuance of Report
Immediately Following Official Briefing
Outside Courtyard
Wednesday June 2, 2010
Official report release briefing begins at 3 PM
WSU- Tri-Cities CIC

On Wednesday June 2nd at 3 PM, the federal Energy Department (USDOE) will release the report of its four month independent investigation into worker exposure to beryllium at Hanford.

Dozens of Hanford workers exposed to beryllium have developed beryllium disease or “sensitization” leading to the incurable lung disease, which can be fatal. Very small amounts of beryllium dust, which is easily disturbed, can lead to sensitization and debilitating beryllium disease.

The independent investigation was ordered by senior USDOE officials after affected workers, the cleanup watchdog group, Heart of America Northwest, and the Hanford Advisory Board repeatedly raised concerns that Hanford managers and contractors had failed to prevent additional exposures and implement the recommendations from two prior formal reviews dating back to 2002.

Affected workers and Heart of America Northwest will respond to the report’s findings with a media availability in the courtyard outside CIC (River side) (and immediately inside if raining) immediately following the end of the official briefing by senior Energy Department officials Assistant Secretary of Energy Dr. Ines Triay and Glenn Podonsky, Director of USDOE’s Office of Health, Safety and Security.

In 2002, an independent review of exposures to beryllium and the Hanford site’s medical program for beryllium was issued with extensive recommendations by the Hanford Joint Council for Employee Concerns. Hanford site management pledged to implement recommendations to prevent additional exposures and to provide appropriate medical support to affected workers. Those recommendations, however, were never implemented.

In 2004, acting on behalf of potentially exposed workers, Heart of America Northwest filed a petition for an investigation and a “stop work” order regarding work at Hanford facilities with the potential to cause exposure to beryllium. An independent review of the concerns found many were substantiated and a violation of the rules designed to prevent exposures and protect workers. Recommendations from that report were never implemented.

A new beryllium control program was to be implemented, under the rules, by August, 2009. However, USDOE management gave contractors an extension until January, 2010. In January, the program was still not implemented. Heart of America Northwest’s review of the new program on behalf of concerned workers found that the new program would continue to fail to meet legal requirements for protecting workers and ensuring that they have medical “removal” after sensitization.

Areas of concern include:
  • Declaring facilities “beryllium free” based on inadequate characterization – leading to the likely exposure and disease in additional workers;
    • Fluor Hanford Corp. characterized beryllium contamination in buildings using a minimum detection limit for beryllium dust which was two and a half times higher than the “action level” set in USDOE’s rule to protect workers from exposure;
    • Continued inadequacies in testing for beryllium dust and declaring that workers could be in portions of facilities without respiratory protection while other areas of the same buildings have beryllium dust in areas where work was likely to be disturbing the dust.
  • Procedures requiring workers to return to work in buildings where they faced the potential for additional exposure after being diagnosed as sensitized – in violation of the federal rule.
  • Failure to provide the required medical support for workers with beryllium disease;
  • Failure to track where workers were exposed and to use that information to characterize and prevent exposures, and to warn other workers in those buildings of the need to be tested;
  • Requiring repeated medical exams challenging workers compensation claims after sick workers had already been diagnosed by the nation’s leading medical experts in beryllium.

Hanford management failed to respond to findings that practices did not comply with federal law standards and were likely to be causing additional beryllium exposures. To protect the health of workers and provide the medical support for the exposed workers,” says Gerry Pollet, Executive Director of Heart of America Northwest, “solutions must include new independent oversight with authority – including the ability to penalize contractors – to implement the latest report on a firm timeline.” Heart of America Northwest also believes that the report referred to the US Attorney for review. “The Assistant Secretary of Energy and the Office of Health, Safety and security have responded forcefully and with excellent transparency to start this investigation and in how it has been carried out.”

For Info:
Gerry Pollet, J.D., Executive Director,
Heart of America Northwest
“The Public’s Voice for Hanford Clean-Up”
 206)382-1014 office