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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.

Inslee Signs Legislation Aimed At Helping Hanford Workers

Tom Banse
Northwest News Network
Washingotn Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law Thursday new protections new protections for workers at the Hanford nuclear reservation.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee Wednesday signed legislation aimed at helping workers at the Hanford nuclear reservation. The law will allow workers who have been exposed to toxic chemicals or radioactive waste more easily access compensation for medical treatment.

“This bill provides them a path toward compensation for illnesses they might have contracted and caused while on the job at Hanford,” Inslee said.

The newly signed legislation establishes “presumption of causation”—meaning that if you get certain diseases and you worked at Hanford—there is a presumption that those diseases came from your exposure at work. It would make it easier to file for workers compensation and give claims that have been denied a better chance on appeal.

The law focuses on certain problems like lung disease, heart problems, certain cancers, beryllium disease and neurological disease.

Abe Garza attended the bill signing. He worked at Hanford for more than three decades—much of it around underground tanks full of radioactive and chemical waste. Garza didn’t feel comfortable to talk. But his wife, Bertolla Bugarin said he wasn’t the same person after his exposure at Hanford.

“He couldn’t remember if he took his medication,” she said. “He was running around like in a chemical fog.”

Since then, Garza has been diagnosed with lung problems, heart problems and a brain disease from exposure to chemicals.

Credit Tom Banse / Northwest News Network
Northwest News Network
Abe Garza worked at Hanford for more than three decades. His wife Bertolla Bugarin said he hasn't been the same person since his exposure to radioactive and chemical waste at Hanford.

Inslee said the law is a reminder that there is a lot more to do at Hanford.

"We've got to continue to demand that the federal government protect our Washingtonians working on the Hanford site," he said. "I am glad we are taking action to insist that the federal government does its job not only to finish the cleanup, but to finish it in a safe way so workers don't face undo risk."

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.