Settlement Agreement Reached on Hanford Vapors Litigation

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Settlement Agreement Reached on Hanford Vapors Litigation

The Department of Energy (DOE) and Washington River Protection Solutions, LCC (WRPS) are pleased to announce today that a settlement agreement has been signed regarding lawsuits brought by the State of Washington and by Hanford Challenge and Local 598 of the United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters.  The lawsuits were based on concerns about potential health risks posed by vapors vented from mixed waste stored in underground tanks at Hanford.

The settlement agreement, while signed today, will only become effective if the court grants a joint motion to extend certain tank waste retrieval milestones in a separate case and grants a joint motion to stay the vapors litigation. 

The settlement agreement acknowledges the extensive actions DOE and WRPS have taken to protect workers from potential exposure to chemical vapors, including implementing recommendations from independent program reviews conducted between 2014-2018 by the Savannah River National Laboratory’s Tank Vapors Assessment Team, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the DOE Office of Enterprise Assessments, and the DOE Office of the Inspector General.

DOE and WRPS have instituted a programmatic strategy to protect workers from potential exposure to chemical vapors. This strategy comports with Hanford’s rigorous site-wide integrated safety management system that identifies industrial hazards and implements worker safety and health protections appropriate for the work to be performed. The chemical vapors protection program integrates industrial hygiene best practices with engineering controls, use of personal protection equipment, and robust communications with the workforce before, during, and after work is performed. To complement this approach, WRPS continues to hold regular meetings with workers to foster open dialogue and early identification of safety concerns. In addition, WRPS has developed a website to provide workers and stakeholders with timely access to information about Hanford tank vapors and workforce protections. The hanfordvapors.com website provides current and historical data, sampling results, background information, reference materials, and regular industrial hygiene program updates.

WRPS continues to work with the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council (HAMTC), the bargaining unit for Hanford’s direct-hire union employees, to implement a 2016 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between WRPS and HAMTC. The MOA addresses respiratory protections, cartridge testing for air-purifying respirators, and the implementation of additional engineered controls and other approaches to tank vapors. 

The settlement agreement includes completion of ongoing testing of a system that may prove capable of reducing vapors by thermal treatment. The system is designed to pull tank vapors through filters into combustion chambers, which could greatly reduce chemical concentrations. If continued off-site testing meets performance criteria, DOE and WRPS will pursue final design, permitting, and procurement of a unit for on-site tests in accordance with the settlement agreement.

Additionally, testing is underway on a vapor control system that uses a high velocity fan to mix the contents of a tank ventilation stack (gases and vapors) with ambient air and then expels them from the stack at high speed above workers’ breathing zones.

The settlement agreement also includes additional work to install an active exhaust ventilation system in the A Farm; to evaluate (and implement consistent with the outcomes of the work planning process) a customized set of hazard controls for each waste-disturbing activity in the tank farms; and to complete the design of the optimal components and configuration of the Vapors Monitoring and Detection System for exhaust stack monitoring in the A and AX Farms. The agreement notes that DOE and WRPS installed public address and event notification systems in the tank farms to facilitate immediate notifications to workers.

Worker safety is DOE’s top priority. WRPS, in conjunction with DOE and in cooperation with HAMTC, continues to take a very conservative approach to protecting workers from potential exposures to chemical vapors. The Settlement Agreement is based on and reinforces this ongoing effort.