UPDATE (9:55 a.m. PST) — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee Wednesday penned into law new protections for workers at the Hanford nuclear reservation. The law will help 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 talking for this story. 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-wasting disease from exposure to chemicals.
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.”