House Bill 1723 Removes Unfair Barriers That Prevent Hanford Workers From Qualifying
On March 7, 2018 Governor Jay Inslee signed into law the most comprehensive legislation to date designed to “provide Handford nuclear site workers one of the best medical compensation programs in the nation.”
“Washington State has recognized the often terrible price Hanford workers on the front lines of nuclear production and cleanup have to pay for their service to the nation. This law removes unfair barriers that prevent workers from qualifying for workers compensation, despite working at the most contaminated and hazardous site in the nation,” said Tom Carpenter, Executive Director of Hanford Challenge said in a press release.
The new bill intends to potentially qualify previously denied workers compensation claims and broadens the criteria workers must meet to qualify for new claims. For example, workers will no longer need to show the exact chemical or toxin that may have caused the workers illness while working at the site.
The new bill also includes the following provisions:
- workers, and families of workers who have died, and been denied compensation in the past can refile a claim under the new standards;
- any Hanford worker who has worked a single 8-hour shift on the site itself is covered;
- the law allows claims to be filed any time within the lifetime of the worker, without regard to the law’s date of passage, acknowledging the long latency periods for exposure to many toxins such as asbestos, beryllium and radiation. In other words, a condition that develops from an exposure that occurred years ago would still be covered;
- Once a worker establishes a prima facie case of causation, the employer’s rebuttal must be proved by clear and convincing evidence.
“Hanford workers deserve the kind of legislative reform they just received that will help enable them to get that compensation and medical care resulting from illnesses caused by working at Hanford,” Carpenter also said.
Workers Routinely Denied Hanford Workers Compensation Claims
Clean-up of plutonium and other radioactive, toxic chemicals at Hanford began in 1989 and new generations of workers have continued getting sick with respiratory, heart issues, neurological diseases and cancers. Per Hanford Challenge:
- Claims have been denied at five times the rate of other self-insured employers (averaged over the past five years).
- Hanford workers are forced to go to Independent Medical Exams that violate state standards.
- Hanford workers who contest the denial of their claims are met with aggressive DOE legal tactics that interfere with objective claims management and create and uneven playing field.
- Hanford’s workers’ compensation program is fraught with opportunities for DOE interference.
Hanford Nuclear Site Background
Hanford nuclear site has been operating for 45 years, generating millions of tons of plutonium and other radioactive and chemical contaminants. The site employs thousands of people and has always operated without outside oversight. It is estimated that tens of thousands of workers have been exposed to these highly toxic chemicals over the years. An agreement was reached in 1989 between the Department of Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Washington State, Hanford to begin cleaning up the site after plutonium production ended.
According to the Department of Energy, “Nowhere in the DOE Complex is cleanup more challenging than at the Hanford Site in southeastern Washington. Hanford made more than 20 million pieces of uranium metal fuel for nine nuclear reactors along the Columbia River. Five huge plants in the center of the Hanford Site processed 110,000 tons of fuel from the reactors, discharging an estimated 450 billion gallons of liquids to soil disposal sites and 53 million gallons of radioactive waste to 177 large underground tanks.”
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