September 16, 2020

“Respiratory Equipment Maintenance at the Hanford Site”

The Department of Energy’s Hanford Site (Hanford), located in Washington State, was one of the sites selected for the Manhattan Project to produce plutonium for the U.S. nuclear arsenal.  The weapon production processes left solid and liquid wastes that pose a risk to the environment.  Since 1987, Hanford’s mission has been to clean up the site following the decades of weapon production activities.  There are two Department Offices at Hanford that oversee the cleanup efforts.  The first, the Office of River Protection, is responsible for retrieving and treating the Hanford’s tank waste and for closing the Tank Farms.  The Office of River Protection contracted with Washington River Protection Solutions, LLC to manage, retrieve, and treat radioactive and hazardous tank waste; and with Bechtel National, Inc. to design and build the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant.  The second Department Office, the Richland Operations Office, is responsible for programs that are necessary to ensure the safety of the Hanford cleanup and site infrastructure needs.  The Richland Operations Office contracted with CH2M HILL Plateau Remediation Company to perform environmental cleanup of the Central Plateau at Hanford.  CH2M HILL Plateau Remediation Company is also responsible for waste retrieval, demolition of facilities, and closure of the Plutonium Finishing Plant.

These Hanford cleanup projects require contractors to work in a variety of hazardous work environments that can include radioactive materials and industrial and chemical hazards.  As a result, Hanford contractors are required to use respiratory protection equipment to protect from the health and safety consequences of these work activities.  We initiated this audit to determine whether Hanford contractors were adequately maintaining respiratory protection equipment to protect workers from exposure to hazardous materials.  This report is one in a series at select Environmental Management sites.

We found that Hanford contractors CHPRC and WRPS did not always maintain respiratory protection equipment in accordance with requirements.  Although we did not specifically identify that unmaintained equipment was issued by either contractor, neither contractor had documented compensating controls in place to ensure that equipment which had not received proper maintenance was not issued to end users, increasing the possibility that end users might be issued the unmaintained respiratory equipment.  Using unmaintained respirators increases the risk that workers will inhale dangerous substances because the respirator may not function properly.

Management concurred with the report’s recommendations and indicated that corrective actions are planned to address the issues identified in the report.  In addition, management provided separate technical comments.