(A Letter from a concerned Safety Manager)
Below is a letter I received last week and I spoke to Jane over the weekend and this is one tough cookie. In posting this I was hoping to gain a few contacts that may know a little more about chemicals and maybe some suggestions on how to help Dan's family keep up the fight, Dan's last pleas and a saftey professional fulfill a promise.
Tammy and Jordan,
For a long time now, I have read the columns from both of you. You so eloquently describe the struggles faced by so many workers in workplaces that are not safe. Tammy, you have reminded us to not forget the deaths of so many. Unfortunately today we must add another name to your list.
Dan Golden worked most of his life at the Hanford Nuclear Site. He worked as a Rigger, supporting the many varied crane operations that take place at the Site. On a particularly blue sky day in May of 2002, Dan and his crew were moving long lengths of piping used as a giant pressure washer to break up solids in underground Tank TX-116 in the Hanford Tank Farms. As the piping was lifted out of the tank and moved to a flat bed truck for transport to another tank, the piping held horizontally in the air by the crane, tipped just slightly, releasing "the green goo" as workers referred to the tank waste. Dan was in closest proxity and was spattered down his left side, his arm, and his face. The side shield on his safety glasses prevented the radiologically and chemically contaminated tank waste from contacting his eyes.
The emergency response was akin to the keystone cops. CH2M Hill supervision were more focused on the spill to the ground and the immediate notification to the State of Washington environmental regulators, The Dept. of Ecology. Dan said he stood there dripping in tank waste while most around him struggled to figure out just what to do next. There were no decontamination supplies available, so two of the nuclear operators ran to an adjacent vehicle where they had a cooler of drinking water and some towels to wipe Dan down. Eventually, Dan was completely deconned and CH2M HILL patted themselves on the back for successfully containing the spilled liquid.
10 days later, I met Dan Golden for the first time. I had been the Safety and Health Manager for CH2M HILL Hanford Group for about two years, I had been visiting my recently widowed mother in Montana when the incident had occurred. When I returned, I heard about a radiological spill to the ground which required clean-up, but no mention of contact to a person. Nearly two weeks after the event, Dan called and asked me if he could meet with me to discuss a possible chemical exposure. He sat there in my office, related his story, visibly worried. He asked me what chemicals could have been present in the tank waste. Since the event he had noticed a change in his health. He described that he had passed blood in his urine. I asked if on the day of the event he had also been medically evaluated (which was a written procedure), No, it seemed that focus had been on the radiological decon and the support team had forgotten to assess the "chemical part of the waste". I immediate arranged for a medical consult and promised to find out what exactly was in the green goo from Tank TX-116, and send it to the doctors.
Two days later, the ugly truth presented itself. I could not tell Dan what chemicals had contacted him because Tank TX-116 had never been sampled. A process engineer calmly explained that there was little liquid left in the tank that held process waste from the nuclear materials processed in the 1950's and 1960's. Instead of sampling the tanks, estimations of the volume and constituents had been made based on the process chemicals and likely by-products. I asked, "So how have we estimated what vapors are emitted from tanks. How do know what employees have been exposed to when contactyed with liquids?" I was told the vapor concentrations were not sufficient to notify the State of an airborne release. Relieved to know that we had not affected the eagle nesting areas along the Columbia River, I asked "But what about employees who have their faces at the emission source with no respiratory pro tection worn? How do we know that they were not exposed? " Well, quite simply: sampling every tanks was just too costly and the DOE had made the decision years prior. The Emperor had no clothes and I now knew it.
I am not sure how I did it, but I managed to get that Tank sampled. It took 4 months and a speciall allocation of about $500,00 from the DOE. It all but ended my career at CH2M HILL. When the sampling schedule kept slipping, and I reminded the Operations manager that we had made a commitment to Dan to gather the constituent information for his doctors, This former Navy commander banged his fist with his Annapolis ring on the table and barked that I (lowly that I was as only the Safety manager) did not dictate his work priorities. I calmly told him and the room full of observers that he had no greater priority that get that job done so that we could provide the information that Dan's doctors' needed. I was regarded as not being a "Team player" and I had become "too close to the situation to be objective".
We got the data, but Dan's health continued to decline, I believe as much from worry as the exposure he received. The doctors could not figure out why he continued to get ill. I postulated some synergistic affect between the chemical and the radiological constituents, but I am no toxicologist. Just a field IH trying to make sense of it all. Dan's application for workman's compensation was denied because there was no directly link between his symptoms and the chemicals. He filed a lawsuit. I was deposed for 4 hours by my former employer. I was asked, "Why did I believe the event was responsible for Dan's illness?" I asked, "How were they sure that it was not?" In a report I found later that CH2M HILL Hanford Group had contracted the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to prepare ( while I was exiled to a new office that had been the former office supplies closet), researchers postulated that some 1800 chemicals constituents were likely in the vapor phase of the headspace of the Tanks. But the common practice when I was the Safety and Health manager was to only characterize 70 constituents in the routine sampling that was conducted in the Hanford Tanks that were sampled." So, I told the well-dressed, but poorly manicured junior attorney from Lathim and Watkins working for CH2M HILL but mostly paid for with DOE funds I contributed to as a taxpayer, " Any 2nd grader can tell you that leaves 1730 chemicals uncharacterized and unaccounted for, some of which are carcinogens." Dan's lawsuit was also dismissed because of the EEOICPA loophole. Finally, Dan's EEOICPA claim was also denied because his spreading liver cancer could also not be directly linked to the chemicals "thought" to be in the tank.
I eventually found other work and friends kept me informed of Dan's declining health. Yesterday Dan Golden died. I was here at the ASSE National Convention listening to Ed Foulke and John Howard tell a packed house of Safety professionals of all that their agencies were doing to "ensure that workers have a safe and healthful workplace". I kept thinking of Dan. What had I missed? What more could I have done? Did I quit too soon after incurrring that wrath of CH2M HILL that made me no longer employable in the DOE? I am struggling with answers today.
So I turn to you. Help me make sure that Dan is remembered. What can I do? Dan is the example that the DOE cannot be both the customer and the regulator. Because when budgets are tight, as they are now, the workers loose because DOE the customer finds the way to get the contractors to the work in the most cost-effective way and DOE the regulator does only the minimum. This dichotomy and continued cutting of corners will only increase the body count.
My deepest appreciation to both of you for what you do each day.