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Originally published June 23 2014

Hanford nuclear site employees not allowed to speak out about chemical exposure, brain damage

by Ethan A. Huff, staff writer

(NaturalNews) Workers at a large nuclear waste storage facility in south-central Washington are falling gravely ill from exposure to radiation, according to new reports. But a former company insider says they are too afraid to come out about it for fear of losing their jobs.

NBC Right Now in the Tri-Cities reports that Lonnie Poteet, a former truck driver at the federal government's Hanford Site, suffered major injuries after encountering leaked radiation earlier in the spring. Poteet says site managers failed to notify him that there had been a spill upon arriving to deliver fuel.

"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," recalled Poteet about arriving at the site just hours following the spill.

Rather than post a notice or warn workers directly that a spill had occurred, Poteet says Hanford officials did nothing. Consequently, he and others continued to access the site, even though some crews had been notified to stay home that day while the spill was addressed.

"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," stated Poteet.

"They put me in harms 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?"

Many Hanford workers face long-term health damage, says Poteet

Since the spill, which occurred back in 2007, Poteet has continued to suffer health consequences as a result of exposure. He now has to wear special sunglasses because of vision loss in his right eye and resulting light sensitivity. He also suffers from sharp pains in his head and a frequent tick, and has to take medication to prevent himself from collapsing due to severe nerve damage in his brain.

One day, he fears, the damage could take its toll in the form of death. Poteet says that, should he suddenly collapse and die from his symptoms, his grandson, whom he takes care of, will be left without a grandfather, a thought that immediately brought him to tears during a recent interview.

Safety issues at Hanford are prevalent, says Poteet, and the official policy there is for workers to come forward with any and all concerns that they might have. But this is more of a formality than actual practice, he says, as workers are fearful that they might lose their jobs if they stir the pot.

"They're going to be exposed to the same situation I am," Poteet told reporters. "Most of the workers on-site right now are running scared. They will not bring up any safety concerns, because as soon as you do, you're going to be labeled and thrown off the site, just as fast as they can go."

CH2M Hill, the company that was previously in charge of managing the site during the time of the accident, was fined more than $300,000 by the Department of Energy for numerous nuclear safety violations. Today, Washington River Protection Solutions is in charge of cleanup efforts.

Meanwhile, other former workers harmed by nuclear exposure at Hanford are having trouble getting compensation for their injuries. According to KING5 News in Seattle, a government audit found that claims for compensation sometimes take up to seven years to get processed, and many valid applications are being denied.

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