SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — A bill designed to make it easier for the thousands of workers on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation to qualify for worker compensation benefits was signed into law Wednesday by Washington Gov.…
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — A bill designed to make it easier for the thousands of workers on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation to qualify for worker compensation benefits was signed into law Wednesday by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
The Legislature recently passed the bill to aid workers at the plant that for decades made plutonium for nuclear weapons.
The bill creates a presumption that illnesses developed by Hanford workers are due to the many chemicals that pollute the site.
“Worker safety at Hanford is a top priority of our state,” Inslee, a Democrat, said while signing the bill. He added that thousands of workers at the site near Richland face “unique risks because of the nature of the work.”
Many Hanford employees over the years have been denied worker compensation, despite becoming sick, bill supporters said.
The bill relieves Hanford workers of the difficult task of proving which chemical caused an occupational disease such as cancer.
The bill allows the presumption to be rebutted by clear and convincing evidence that something else caused an illness, such as tobacco use or other lifestyle choices.
“Washington state has recognized the often terrible price Hanford workers on the front lines of nuclear production and clean-up have to pay for their service to the nation,” said Tom Carpenter, executive director of watchdog group Hanford Challenge, which pushed for the bill.
He called Hanford the most contaminated and hazardous site in the nation.
The sprawling site contains more than 50 million gallons of radioactive and toxic wastes in underground storage tanks. It’s owned by the U.S. Department of Energy, which hires private contractors to manage the cleanup work.
Under the new law, workers who have been denied compensation in the past can refile a claim. Anyone who has worked a single eight-hour shift on the site is covered.
Claims can be filed any time within the lifetime of the worker, an aspect of the bill that acknowledges the long latency periods for exposure to toxins such as asbestos, beryllium and radiation.
Hanford was established during World War II and made the plutonium for the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. The 560-square mile site also made most of the plutonium for the nation’s nuclear arsenal during the Cold War.