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AIKEN, S.C. (Sept. 16, 2019) – The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) Savannah River Site (SRS) liquid waste contractor has won a national safety award for its efforts to protect workers from mercury vapors.

The Voluntary Protection Programs Participants’ Association (VPPPA) award recognizes Savannah River Remediation's (SRR) innovative work in worker safety. VPPPA provides a network for companies and worksites striving for occupational safety and health excellence, including DOE’s Voluntary Protection Programs.

Mercury and mercury vapor can be found at SRS as a byproduct of processing nuclear materials for national defense, medical programs, space missions, and research.

In 2018, SRR’s industrial hygiene team installed air sampling units to sample and monitor mercury levels as part of a pilot project. The units simultaneously sample air quality for mercury vapors at eight separate locations across the site’s Effluent Treatment Facility (ETF), providing nearly real-time results for each environment every 25 minutes. Previously, the facility relied solely on hand-held detection devices carried by workers.

Jim Folk, DOE-Savannah River assistant manager for waste disposition, said DOE views employee safety as the most important part of any job.

"Across the entire Savannah River Site, employee safety is of special importance," Folk said. "Each individual within the liquid waste program performs a significant task, helping us accomplish our overall mission of properly and safely disposing of waste."

Patricia Allen, SRR’s environmental safety, health, quality assurance, and contractor assurance director, said SRR values worker safety.

"We intentionally set the sensor levels low, so that the alarm will sound even if only a faint vapor is detected," Allen said. "This award from VPPPA recognizes our determination to help our workers safely return home from the job every day."

Allen says the system’s monitors have already demonstrated their value in identifying potential process, equipment, and ventilation improvements. Using the information provided by the monitors, employees can troubleshoot, helping ETF to engineer a more targeted solution and effectively reducing facility downtime, lowering potential radiation exposure to employees, and reducing the impact on projects at the facility.

Savannah River Remediation (SRR) President and Project Manager Tom Foster,
Savannah River Remediation (SRR) President and Project Manager Tom Foster, right, and SRR Senior Industrial Hygienist Alex Brown view a system that monitors air quality for potentially dangerous mercury vapors at the ETF.