WA: More than 40 Workers Test Positive for Radiation after Nuke Site Clean-Up

Liz Carey

Hanford, WA (WorkersCompensation.com) – More than 40 workers at the Hanford Nuclear Site have tested positive for radiation contamination in what officials say is the worst contamination events in the plant’s history.

Hanford Nuclear Site once produced the plutonium for the US Department of Defense nuclear weapons. Since then, the site has been subject to clean-up the government says could take decades longer and millions more in funding.

According to an investigation by Buzzfeed, 42 Hanford employees have tested positive for radioactive contamination since June of 2017. While government officials said the contamination levels are lower than what is considered dangerous, workers at the plant have sent samples of dust from their cars, bodily fluids and other samples to independent laboratories for testing.

Those test results are unlikely to have any impact on whether or not the federal government pays the employees for any cancers that may develop as a result of the exposure, said R. Hugh Stephens, an attorney who specializes in Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act. The act provides payment to energy workers since the 1940s who worked at the US nuclear weapons and energy facilities.

“The amount of exposure we see in more recent cases just isn’t to the level that we saw in the 1940s,” Stephens said in an interview with WorkersCompensation.com. “While there are a good number of people working up there who are showing significant health issues, whether or not the government will pay them if they develop cancer in the next ten years is still to be seen.”

Stephens said that the EEOIC laws are so clearly defined that if a person exposed to radiation at one of the federal facilities develops cancer prior to the time that federal law determines a cancer like that would show up, the cancer patients are likely to be told the radiation was not the cause of their illness.

Still, Stephens said, those exposed in the Hanford area now qualify for state benefits that presume the illnesses are a factor of their exposure to radiation. Workers’ compensation laws in the state have changed recently to allow those workers to access to medical care and treatment as a result of their exposure.