19 August 1997
Source: E-mail direct.
Return-Path: <email@example.com> Date: Mon, 18 Aug 1997 13:17:09 -0700 To: firstname.lastname@example.org From: Tom Carpenter <email@example.com> Subject: Hanford Nuke Waste PRESS RELEASE GAP Releases White Paper on Hanford Tank Fiasco DOE Ignores Scientists' Safety Concerns, Endangers Workers and Public The Government Accountability Project (GAP) recently published the findings of its investigation into Hanford's ill-fated implementation of a dangerous exhauster system designed to blow untreated toxic vapors from an underground, high-level nuclear waste tank into the environment. The investigation disclosed that managers at the Department of Energy (DOE)'s Richland office intimidated and silenced its own in-house technical experts, who warned that the system could increase the cancer-causing chemicals in the air, endangering workers as well as the public breathing the air downwind of the tank. Although managers at the Tank Farms -- where 67 million gallons of nuclear waste are stored in 177 underground tanks, many of which have leaked -- were aware of the scientists' documented concerns, they, along with the contractors being paid for the project, installed the system anyway to meet a mandated Milestone of June 30, 1995. At the time of this decision, DOE managers were aware that the system could violate the Clean Air Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and other laws forbidding the knowing endangerment of employees and the release of high levels of radionuclides into the air. However, concerned Hanford employees who disclosed the wrongdoing to GAP, as well as internal DOE documents, confirmed that a decision was made at senior levels to push the project forward to avoid the negative "optics" of failing to meet a Milestone -- despite the potential danger to workers and the public. In March, 1997, the scientists' and engineers' concerns were proven well-founded when a draft of an independent study by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory confirmed the dangers of inhalation exposure to the vapors being blown out of Tank C-103. The draft analysis, obtained by GAP, contained alarming findings, including: · The greatest risks are "generally beyond the security fence," since toxic vapors are blown downwind. As a result, workers on the site and the general public downwind of the tank could inhale the vapors without even knowing it. · The study found severe risks to workers of contracting cancer. The cancer risk for an exposed tank worker is one in sixteen for a deflected stack configuration, and one in 1,400 for a straight stack. The threshold of regulatory concern, called the "action level," is one in 1,000,000. · The study found severe risks to workers of nonchronic toxicological effects as well: 21.3 for a deflected stack and 0.2 for a straight stack, with an action level of 1. In March, 1997, the Washington State Department of Ecology informed the DOE that the system had failed to satisfy the cleanup Milestone -- a concern the scientists and engineers had raised nearly two years earlier. Furthermore, the system was shut down a few months after startup because the air filters kept getting clogged -- another problem anticipated by the DOE scientists and engineers. Besides endangering workers and the public, silencing its own scientific reviewers, and most likely violating safety and environmental regulations, the DOE also failed to fulfill its cleanup mandate -- all at a cost to the taxpayer of hundreds of thousands of dollars. "The actions of DOE management in this case are a direct betrayal of the public trust, and they knowingly exposed Hanford workers to deadly hazardous vapors. They ignored their own technical experts and, acting in their own interests instead of in the interest of the public, literally blew off safety at Tank C-103. We are calling on the Department of Justice and the State Department of Ecology to investigate and prosecute the managers responsible for this outrage," said Tom Carpenter, Director of the West Coast Office of the Government Accountability Project. Copies of the GAP White Paper on this incident are available at the GAP Website: http://www.whistleblower.org/gap. GAP is a nonprofit, public interest organization that promotes government accountability and provides advocacy for workers who disclose dangerous, illegal, or environmentally unsound practices on the job.