(NaturalNews) Workers at the federal government's Hanford Site, a Department of Energy facility in Washington State that serves as a repository for spent nuclear power plant fuel rods, say their health has been adversely affected by what they say is toxic exposure to chemicals and radiation.
In an interview with a local NBC news team, truck driver Lonnie Poteet said he arrived outside the Hanford Site to deliver fuel rods and quickly began experiencing symptoms from exposure to chemical vapors. What he did not know, however, is that there had been a nuclear spill just hours before at the site.
"I was already burning from my glove line to my t-shirt line and the side of my face and I was already starting to lose a little bit of vision in my right eye," Poteet told NBC Right Now.
He said everything happened very quickly.
'They didn't tell everyone'
On July 27, 2007, Poteet, who was a contracted worker, drove up to the site to deliver the fuel. At the the time, the firm CH2M HILL was managing the cleanup effort and failed to notify all workers about the spill.
According to the report, the spill happened around 2:10 a.m.; Poteet says he arrived at the fence line of the Hanford Site's tank farm around 10:00 a.m.
"Very frustrated. When they told their crews that showed up that day to go to work to stay in because they had a potential spill, they held them back, but notified nobody else. They put me in [harm's] way. Specifically they asked me to be there as late in the day as possible. They knew I was coming. Why didn't they say something?" Poteet said.
He says he lives his life now as a recluse because of a myriad of health issues he must deal with related to the exposure. He has to wear sunglasses all the time due to vision loss in his right eye and because he is now sensitive to light. He has sharp pains in his head and they often cause him to twitch. And he says medication prevents him from collapsing in pain due to severe nerve and brain damage.
However, he says his biggest fear is not living long enough to watch his grandson, whom he cares for, grow up. He thinks that he could simply collapse one day and not wake up.
Now, he says he doesn't want to see other workers go through the same thing.
"They're going to be exposed to the same situation I am. That's my concern for them. Nobody is going to do anything to stop it. I don't care what they say in the papers. As long as there's profit in what they're doing and they get their bonuses on a decent time, that's all they care about," Poteet said.
Another worker, who was also interviewed by the NBC affiliate, told a similar story.
Lawrence Rouse, who spent almost 20 years working at Hanford's most hazardous sites, said he was exposed to nuclear waste radiation and toxic chemicals a number of times.
The exposures likely led to the contraction of a deadly disease, and though he receives some compensation from the federal Department of Labor, it's not even close to being enough when compared to how the illness has left him struggling.
"The disease that I have, toxic encephalopathy, I think that's how it's pronounced, from the time you're diagnosed you normally, it depends on every person, you normally have ten to twelve years and you're dead. You just end up, it eats your brain away," said Rouse.
He said he was exposed to nuclear radiation around 10 times and that he was constantly exposed to chemical vapors. More often than not, he says, workers there did not wear sufficient protective gear.
"Anytime you went into a farm to do any kind of work you'd smell something. Sometimes it would be a little one. Sometimes it would almost bring you to your knees... [At the] SY [tank] farm, it would rain the chemical on you from the stack. That's why we wore the baseball caps," Rouse said.
The Department of Energy has routinely denied that there are dangers at the tank farm, Rouse said.
Nevertheless, the NBC affiliate reported, more Hanford workers are filing new claims for their illnesses, which they say they developed on site, all the time.