'Failed Obligation’: Gov. Inslee Implores Feds to Halt Appeal of Ill Hanford Worker Law

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RICHLAND — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee called on the U.S. Attorney General to support Hanford employees and drop a federal appeal to stop a law that makes it easier for ill workers to be compensated.

Inslee issued the statement in response to the U.S. Department of Justice's petition for review to the U.S. Supreme Court against the state law.

"The decision by the Department of Justice to pursue this case in the U.S. Supreme Court is a mistake that threatens to compound the suffering of Hanford workers," said the statement.

"I implore Attorney General Merrick Garland to consider the greater interests of justice and withdraw the department's petition," he wrote.

The Supreme Court is expected to decide in the next few weeks whether to accept the Department of Justice appeal.

If it does not, the Department of Justice will be out of options to appeal the law and it will stand.

The Trump administration fought the law, losing the case it brought in U.S District Court in Eastern Washington and an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Now the Biden administration also is fighting the law passed by the Washington state Legislature in 2018.

The Washington state law makes it easier for ill Hanford workers to qualify for state worker compensation benefits.

It requires the Washington state Department of Labor and Industries to presume that radiological or chemical exposures at Hanford caused any neurological diseases or respiratory illnesses claimed by past or current employees of Hanford contractors.

Many types of cancer also are presumed to be caused by working at Hanford, plus some limited heart problems, under the new law.

Workers no longer have to prove that not only that their illness was not caused by something else in their lives, but that an exposure to a specific chemical caused their illness. Some 1,500 different volatile gases have been found in waste in Hanford's underground tanks.

Most other workers in Washington state bear the burden of proof to show that their injury or illness was a direct result of a specific workplace incident in order for them to be paid workers' comp.

Ill worker compensation

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson was in the Tri-Cities last week for a news conference with Hanford workers and union representatives to ask federal officials to reconsider.

"I applaud Attorney General Bob Ferguson's commitment to defending this state law, as he has ably done twice before," wrote Inslee. "There is still time to choose a different path, and I stand with the labor community and all those encouraging the Department of Justice to take advantage of it. No legal principle is so important that it can justify a course of action that will undermine the health and safety of these workers and their families."

Inslee noted federal officials should not lose sight of why the legislation was needed in the first place.

"For years, the federal government has failed in its obligation to care for these workers and their families. As the recent final report of the Hanford Healthy Energy Workers Board showed, nearly six in 10 workers at the site who were surveyed reported exposure to radioactive or toxic materials at Hanford, the most contaminated environmental cleanup site in the country," he said.

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ScienceGuy

Most of us will suffer a fatal health issue no matter where we worked or lived. Poor health and death can be caused by many things unrelated to our job or work environment.

Factors like poor diets, excessive drinking, illegal drugs, smoking cigarettes, carbon monoxide leaks in the home, and taking unapproved medicines, or strange supplements can cause long term sickness and eventual death. In addition, we have all had family members die where doctors were uncertain as to specific causes. Do we accept death and move on, or do we search for somebody to sue who we think may have contributed to the death of our loved one?

The Hanford site has contained radioactive materials for the past 77 years. Over those 77 years, tens of thousands of people have safely worked with radioactive materials using portable radiation detectors to maintain safe working conditions. The Federal Government made sure every worker had a badge containing a film which measured radiation exposure; therefore, records were kept of weekly, monthly, yearly and lifetime radiation exposure for every one of those tens of thousand workers. Workers who were approaching safety limits were no longer allowed to work in radiation zones.

There have been situations where a small number of workers inadvertently exceeded their weekly allowable dose. These workers were reassigned to jobs outside of radiation zones. The health conditions of all workers are routinely monitored by health professionals. There has been no evidence that any of the temporary exposures to radiation has caused lingering health issues, yet a few ex-workers will try to blame the Federal Government for the illnesses they eventually develop, sometimes years after their retirement.

Inslee is quoted in the story above as saying, "For years the Federal Government has failed in its obligation to care for these workers and their families."

That statement overlooks the fact that the Federal Government was directly responsible for setting up strict health and safety regulations which have protected tens of thousands of workers at Hanford for the past 77 years.

Why should taxpayers be obligated to pay extra money (beyond typical health insurance) to a small number of Hanford workers who eventually got sick from an unknown cause?

Monday, September 27