Washington Governor Jay Inslee has signed a bill that eases the standards that must be met to receive workers comp benefits for people who have been working at the decommissioned Hanford plutonium production site.
House Bill 1723, signed Wednesday, creates a "presumption of causation" in state law, which assumes that some Hanford workers who become ill are sick because of the many chemicals that pollute the site.
This means Hanford workers, including contractors and subcontractors, who have become ill will not have to prove the exact chemical or toxin that caused their illness. An estimated 1,500 chemicals have been found in Hanford's underground tanks that are vented into the air above ground.
Hanford workers are now able to file or refile for workers comp benefits and their case will considered under the umbrella that the worker is presumed to have worked in a contaminated environment that could well have caused his/her illness. Claims can be filed anytime within the worker's lifetime because the effects of exposure may take years to develop.
Geographically, a worker must have been in areas of the 586-square-mile nuclear reservation where plutonium was produced during World War II or the Cold War for the nation’s nuclear weapons program. They also could have been in areas associated with environmental cleanup, such as the central Hanford landfill for low-level radioactive and hazardous chemical waste.
The bill specifies neurological disease, cancers including lung, bone, kidney, thyroid, respiratory diseases and heart problems experienced within 72 hours of exposure. Workers or survivors of a worker who's claim was denied can now appeal their denial.
However, the new law will not include workers for whom there is evidence that proves other causes for the disease, including smoking, lifestyle, hereditary factors, physical fitness or exposures to toxic substances at other jobs or at home.
The Department of Energy will open a new center April 1 in Richland, Washington, to process claims.
Since last May's partial collapse of a tunnel storing radioactive waste on the Hanford Plutonium Finishing Plant site, 41 workers have tested positive for inhaling or ingesting small amounts of radioactive material.