Washington state officials announced Wednesday a lawsuit has been settled that will result in new and increased methods of detecting, capturing and neutralizing vapors from tanks at Hanford.

In 2015, the state of Washington sued the Department of Energy, saying not enough was being done to detect and protect workers from vapors at the site. Most of them stem from the 167 storage tanks full of radioactive and hazardous waste from years of production at Hanford.

As far back as the 1980's studies showed there was a connection between health issues of workers and the hazardous vapors emitted from the tanks. The lawsuit said at least 1,500 different volatile chemical gasses have been found and documented inside the storage tanks, many of them harmful to humans. In order to prevent buildups and potential issues or even explosions, all of the storage tanks are vented at Hanford.

According to the suit, there are new technologies that are capable of detecting, isolating and neutralizing up to 99 percent of the substances that are vented from the tanks.  Several companies have developed these technologies, the lawsuit will give DOE three years to develop and implement them. A company called NUCON International has created this technology.   Here are more of the conditions from the lawsuit settlement:

  • Phased testing of new technology to capture and destroy tank vapors, and, if successful, implementation
  • Install a vapor monitoring, detection, and alarm system in the areas where vapor exposures are most likely to occur
  • Maintain current safety measures implemented after Ferguson’s lawsuit, including supplied air and respirators, in place to keep workers safe during testing
  • Improve sharing of information regarding vapor events, worker protections, worker health monitoring, and medical surveillance
  • Pay Washington state and Hanford Challenge $925,000 to reimburse for costs and fees.

If mandated progress is not met by DOE, officials say the lawsuit may 'resume.'