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Hanford Site Workers Report Exposure to Toxic Waste, Survey Finds

Jul 28, 2021

A recent survey of 1,600 current and former Hanford workers concluded that 57 percent of respondents admit to having been involved in an incident on the Hanford Site resulting in exposure to toxic or radioactive waste.

In early June 2021, the Hanford Healthy Energy Workers Board released a final report documenting the results of the survey, as well as recommendations on meeting health care needs, progress on meeting key indicators, and recommendations for establishing new health surveillance systems at Hanford.

The board was created by the Washington State Legislature with a specific agenda: to survey current and former Hanford workers; provide recommendations to better meet the health care needs of the Hanford workforce; analyze/review previous studies related to worker exposure; and take inventory of the health surveillance systems currently in use at the Hanford site.

Comprised of organizations like the state departments of Commerce, Health and Labor and Industries, along with the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council (HAMTC), the Central Washington Building and Construction Trades Council and others, it began meeting in August 2020 (virtually) to address requirements as detailed in a 2020 state operating budget proviso.

Survey Limitations

Given a two-week timeframe to complete the survey, and during a pandemic no less, there were limitations to the potential reach. Constraints of the survey made it virtually impossible to know the total number of current and former members of the total Hanford. The survey was not done with a random sample of individuals that could provide more accurate results. Instead, data was collected from volunteers/willing participants through word-of-mouth and responding to various advertising methods.

Additionally, the Department of Energy declined to participate in the survey, which would have given them access to some 11,000 current Hanford employees.


The survey shows that nearly a third (32%) of participants reported having had long-term exposure to hazardous materials while working at the nuclear reservation, rather than exposure during a single incident.

One of the other major findings of the report points to the need for an easily accessible clearinghouse to collect and share information, such as exposure data and best health practices, and promote collaboration and research. It’s estimated that hundreds, if not thousands of independent studies have been conducted over the years on the subject of occupational risks at Hanford.

Additional survey findings included:

  • Of those surveyed, about half of respondents were 65 or older, more than 80% were white and about 70% were men.
  • Nearly 22% of respondents indicated they had illnesses due to a short-term exposure to hazardous Hanford materials, with 38% reporting they did not know.
  • Similarly, 28% of respondents said they had illnesses from long-term exposure to hazardous materials at Hanford, with 40% saying they were not sure.
  • More than 45% of respondents said that they were comfortable with the level of protection to prevent exposure to hazards unique to Hanford, while 29% disagreed. The remaining 25% said they were unsure.


The recommendations from the Hanford Healthy Energy Workers Board covers many focus areas, so to effectively group similar recommendations for consideration, they developed a recommendations framework. The completed framework divides them into three categories: establish a health center for current/former workers; improve access to primary care, acute specialty care and chronic disease management; and improve quality of healthcare and coordination of services.

These high-level groupings help sort related recommendations. Each subsequent recommendation is a separate action to be considered by the Washington State Legislature.

We suggest staying informed by reading more about the findings and recommendations. The full report can be found here.


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