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Cause of illness in Hanford site workers handling radioactive waste remains unknown despite 12,000 air sample tests

Hanford nuclear reservation

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(NaturalNews) Workers who fell ill at the nation's largest nuclear waste storage facility are not psychosomatic, say the plant's operators, but the cause of their illness is still unknown. Dozens of cleanup crew members at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state have reported symptoms of throat irritation and metallic tastes in their mouths over the past several months, but more than 12,000 air sample tests have come up with nothing.

The 586-square-mile site near Richland, Washington, located just a few hundred miles southeast of Seattle, is home to 177 large storage tanks where radioactive waste is currently being stored. The facility was first created as part of the Manhattan Project during World War II for the manufacture of plutonium for nuclear weapons, though it has since been shut down and turned solely into a waste processing and storage site.

In recent years, workers at Hanford have been tasked with removing chemical and radioactive waste materials from the aging storage tanks, some of which are starting to leak. These antiquated, single-walled storage tanks are being replaced with retrofitted, double-walled storage tanks to ensure that their contents remain contained, a laborious process that comes with a number of serious safety risks.

One of them is potential exposure to toxic fumes from the waste, something Hanford workers say may be occurring based on the smells they are encountering. As we reported previously, workers at the site have been reporting sore throats, burning lungs and eyes, and metallic tastes in their mouths, all symptoms of exposure to chemical vapors coming from the leaking storage tanks, they claim.

Just recently, we reported on one company whistleblower who says he has lost some vision in his right eye due to toxic exposure from a recent spill at the site. The man says he was not warned about the dangerous leak, resulting in severe head pains and a frequent tick that most likely indicate permanent brain damage.

Hanford management claims cause of injuries unknown; but workers insist toxic fumes to blame

Others have suffered similar injuries, prompting an investigation by the Savannah River National Laboratory, which is supposed to release a draft report on the situation this October. But as far as the cause of continued illness in lieu of a major leak, officials say that they do not know the cause, even after collecting some 12,000 air samples in and around the facility.

"Our workers are not exposed to vapors, but they are having symptoms," stated Tom Fletcher from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), who manages the Hanford facility. "The question is: 'Why?'"

Despite these claims, some workers insist that the tanks are spewing toxic fumes on a regular basis, and that facility managers are ignoring the problem. Former workers who are now suffering from chronic bronchitis, for instance, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), know that the cause of their illnesses is hardly a mystery.

"They're running and hiding and denying and denying and denying, and they don't care and all this money's coming out of my pocket," lamented Terry Wattenburger, a 49-year-old former Hanford worker who now suffers from COPD, two types of cancer, and a muscle disease due to toxic exposure at the facility. Watternburger has been fighting to receive compensation for his injuries, which he told KREM News in Spokane has been near-impossible to receive, despite the existence of a government compensation program for injured Hanford workers.

"They promised us if we did get sick they'd take care of us, and now they kind of just, you don't count now -- out of the mix, out of the union, ain't right, ain't right," added another injured worker to KREM.

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