A Hanford pipefitters union believes they are being blackballed, or passed over when it comes to contracts, because they are insisting their workers wear protective gear at all times when working near the Hanford tank farms. This image shows the double-shell storage tanks under construction at Hanford in the 1960's.

Local 598 Pipefitters represents nearly 1,200 men and women who work at Hanford as pipefitters, welders and plumbers. Union officials have put their foot down in light of the most recent exposures of workers to vapors at the Hanford tank farm.

So far this year 52 workers have been treated or examined for exposure to vapors emitting from some of the 177 storage tanks full of contaminated radioactive waste. Symptoms range from dizziness to nausea, others smelled it but have not sustained many physical symptoms.

But now union officials say due to their insisting that workers wear Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) equipment whether it's required or not, their parent company Washington River Protection Services (WRPS) is bypassing them for cheaper and faster bids on projects.

According to papers discovered by union officials, a Hanford subcontractor needed a proposal for upgrading the ventilation systems on many of the tanks. The firm, Federal Engineers and Contractors (FE&C) reportedly wrote in the proposal that wearing the SCBA equipment, unless it was in a dangerous area, would slow down the process and make it more expensive.

Hanford sub contractors receive bonuses for projects completed ahead of schedule or on-time from the federal government. Wearing the SCBA gear does make the work more difficult and slower, but ensures the workers won't be nearly as likely to inhale or be exposed to hazardous vapors or conditions.

Union officials say they put their foot down, and are stressing safety. They say officials have known about the hazards of the emissions and vapors for several decades, but not until now is the problem being addressed. A number of long-time former workers are now suffering from physical and neurological issues believed to be related to the vapors. Local 598 says insisting on SCBA use anywhere on the Tank farm location has cost them some contracts, but they say worker safety and health is more important.

A WRPS spokesperson said the company could not comment due to ongoing litigation in the matter.

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