We're Taking You Inside the Hanford Tank Farms

Over the last couple of months, more than three dozen Hanford tank farm employees have said they may have been exposed to chemical vapors, reporting a number of symptoms.

Steps these workers take may include going straight to Kadlec Regional Medical Center or their personal physician.

Whether it's a sore throat, headache or bloody nose, workers usually come through the HPMC Occupational Medical Services facility on site to get checked out. 

We interviewed tank farm worker Rebecca Holland a couple of months ago when she suffered symptoms and she said she didn't understand why she was taken to the medical facility when it can only really provide first-aid medical attention.

"The procedures for that don't make any sense to me when they can't treat you," said Holland.

The facility can stabilize a worker suffering from shortness of breath, test their hearing anf take blood work, but cannot do much past that.

They are then referred to their physicians.  

Of the 38 workers that reported they may have been exposed to vapors, many of them came through on-site medical facility but officials said there was no proof they were exposed.

"We have not found anything with regard to lab tests or urine tests that could point to a specific type of exposure," said Karen Phillips, who runs operations at HPMC.

"By every indication we have, our workers are not exposed to any vapors," said Robert Wilkinson, a WA River Protection Solutions worker.

Even when workers go to their own physicians, answers of whether or not they were exposed are still not clear.

"Physicians sometimes don't understand exactly what's going on with regard to tank forms and they're not really able to make a judgment with regard to whether or not it's related to vapor exposure," said Phillips.

There have been 25,000 claims from 8,000 different workers since Hanford's start.

More than $1 Billion has been paid towards those claims.

Holland and the other workers who suffered symptoms have since returned back to work, but Holland said wants things to be out in the open.

"I wish the company would be more transparent and would be more forthright and honest and caring about the employees," said Holland.

Contractors said of the 57,000 air samples taken since 2007, none of them have shown chemical levels above the occupational exposure limits, which is the federal standard for safety.

Hanford officials are awaiting a report from the Savannah River National Laboratory on what might be causing the illnesses.

That report will come out later this year.