New technology will capture dangerous vapors at Hanford Nuclear Reservation

SEATTLE -- Washington state and the U.S. Department of Energy have reached an agreement in the 3-year lawsuit over worker safety at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Central Washington.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Wednesday that the agreement puts that lawsuit on hold while the Energy Department tests and implements a new system to capture and destroy vapors escaping nuclear waste tanks.

He says the settlement represents a major win for workers who have been getting sick for years. According to the attorney general's office, at least 19 reports of tank vapors have been reported since the 1980s. The vapors contain 1,500 different chemical gasses; many highly dangerous to humans.

"This is a major victory for the brave men and women working to clean up the Hanford Nuclear Reservation," Ferguson said.

More than 50 workers were exposed to toxic vapors at Hanford in April and May 2016, the attorney general's office said. Since 1987, workers have gotten sick after vapor exposure, experiencing nosebleeds, headaches, watery eyes and difficulty breathing.

The state, advocacy group Hanford Challenge and the pipefitters union Local 598 sued the Energy Department and its tank farm contractor in 2015 seeking better protection for workers.

The tanks contain more than 50 million gallons of waste left from the past production of plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons program.

The settlement also includes $925,000 to pay Washington state, Hanford Challenge and the union to reimburse for costs and fees related to the lawsuit.