Chemical Vapor Exposures


  • Over 1,800 chemicals have been documented in the vapors contained within Hanford's tank headspaces, which escape from the tanks through various pathways.
  • Since April 2016, seventy-three (73) workers have required medical evaluation after experiencing a vapor exposure at Hanford. Some of these individuals are still experiencing negative health effects from exposures.
  • Workers exposed to toxic vapors suffer serious long-term health effects including brain damage, lung diseases, nervous system disorders, and cancer. Short-term health effects include nosebleeds, profuse sweating, persistent headaches, tearing eyes, burning skin and lungs, coughing, sore throats, eye problems, dizziness, nausea, memory loss, difficulty breathing, and increased heart rates.
  • Some workers are on long-term disability resulting from chemical vapor exposure at Hanford, with illnesses such as toxic encephalopathy, neurological damage, nerve damage, and lung disease. Others are still fighting for their claims to be recognized. A 1997 Pacific Northwest National Laboratory study found that cancer risks from exposure to tank farm vapors carried a fatal cancer risk as high as 1 in 10. 

Chemical vapor Exposures at Hanford have been ongoing since the 1980s.

  • The vapor exposure controversy is historical. In the early 1990s, numerous oversight investigations were conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy, Congress, and the Inspector General after 16 exposure incidents took place over a 4.5 year period. The resulting reports found gross mismanagement and potentially criminal activity in failing to protect workers from known hazards. 
  • In 2006, CH2M Hill (a Hanford contractor) issued a report titled, Industrial Hygiene Chemical Vapor Technical Basis. Hanford Challenge reviewed this report and raised several concerns. Hanford Challenge and CH2M Hill, both members of the Hanford Concerns Council (HCC), brought these concerns forward for an independent review that resulted in a 2008 report. As a result, a key finding exposed doubt about the credibility of vapor sampling data and concluded that the protective measures being used were not conservative enough to protect workers.

Hanford Challenge is Breaking the Chemical Vapor Exposure Cycle.

  • Hanford has a complicated history of vapor exposure cycles. The cycle typically follows this pattern: 1) vapor exposures occur at Hanford, 2) media attention follows exposures, 3) published reports advocate for more worker protections, 4) some worker protections are put in place, 5) the public begins to forget about exposures, and 6) worker protections are reduced. Hanford Challenge is tired of seeing this cycle repeat itself and will hold the Department of Energy and its contractors accountable. 
  • Hanford Challenge, the Washington State Attorney General, and Local 598 filed suit to bring and end to this cycle and protect workers now and in the future.