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00000179-65ef-d8e2-a9ff-f5ef8d430000The Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeast Washington was home to Native Americans and later to settlers. It turned into an top-secret military workhorse during World War II and the Cold War. Now, it’s one of the most pressing and complex environmental cleanup challenges humanity is facing in the world.This remote area in southeast Washington is where the federal government made plutonium for bombs during WWII and the Cold War. It’s now home to some of the most toxic contamination on earth, a witch’s brew of chemicals, radioactive waste and defunct structures. In central Hanford, leaking underground tanks full of radioactive sludge await a permanent solution. Meanwhile, a massive $12 billion waste treatment plant, designed to bind up that tank waste into more stable glass logs, has a troubled history.00000179-65ef-d8e2-a9ff-f5ef8d440000Anna King is public radio's correspondent in Richland, Washington, covering the seemingly endless complexities of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

Some Hanford Water Cleanup Exceeds Expectations

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CH2M HILL Plateau Remediation Company

Cleanup of a hazardous chemical called hexavalent chromium in the groundwater at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeast Washington is going faster than expected.

Hexavalent chromium is the nasty stuff that made Erin Brockovich famous down in California. The chemical was used to inhibit rust in coolant water in Hanford’s reactors. But that water was dumped into the desert, and now the cancer-causer is making its way toward the Columbia River in large groundwater plumes.

The Hanford contractor CH2M HILL Plateau Remediation Company has made its five pump-and-treat water plants more efficient over the last few years. So the company has removed about 500 pounds of hexavalent chromium already this fiscal year.

“It’s important to the Columbia River, it’s important to the aquatic life that’s in the Columbia River, and it’s a major success,” says spokeswoman Dee Millikin.

Hexavalent chromium is so toxic it only takes about a grain of salt’s worth to contaminate eight gallons of water above federal standards.

On the Web:

Chromium in drinking water - Environmental Protection Agency

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.