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

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