On behalf of the people of Washington, I filed a civil lawsuit against the federal government and its contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS), for their failure to keep workers safe from hazardous chemical vapors at the Hanford nuclear reservation.
At one of the most hazardous sites in North America, Washington workers are removing 56 million gallons of nuclear waste from 177 underground tanks — enough to fill 88 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Some 1,500 volatile chemical gases mix together in these deteriorating tanks, periodically rupturing and releasing noxious fumes. Exposure to these toxic chemicals and carcinogens is known to cause lung disease, central-nervous-system suppression, nerve damage and cancers of the liver, lung, blood and other organs.
I therefore read with interest the recent guest column by Gary R. Petersen [“Excellent worker safety at Hanford,” Opinion, Oct. 27] opposing my lawsuit. Petersen argues that the state should trust that a recent report and WRPS’ plan to solve the problem would finally keep workers safe. Petersen neglected to mention there have now been 19 reports on worker safety. Despite these reports, workers continue to get sick.
Petersen also asserted that I haven’t been to the Hanford Reservation. That is incorrect. I have visited the nuclear site. I have seen firsthand just how far behind the federal government and its contractors are on keeping their promises to the people and Washington state to clean up this toxic mess and protect our fellow Washingtonians who do this dangerous work.
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I have also met with the Hanford workers who put their health and safety on the line to clean up the toxic stew of nuclear waste and hazardous chemicals. They have personally described to me the nosebleeds, headaches, difficulty breathing, burning skin, nausea, permanent loss of lung capacity and other adverse health impacts that they have suffered.
These men and women are our neighbors, family members and friends. Petersen is willing to continue jeopardizing their health in the hopes that the federal government and WRPS will finally honor their commitment to keep workers safe. As attorney general, I refuse to take that chance.
Bob Ferguson, state attorney general