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Federal appeals court rules Washington state can protect Hanford workers

B Reactor at Hanford nuclear site. Photo credit: iStock.com/smodj

A federal appeals court has upheld Washington state’s right to create worker protection laws for employees of the Hanford Nuclear Site who fall ill cleaning up radioactive waste on the job.

A panel of three judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that in 1937 Congress gave authority to the states to provide workers’ compensation benefits to injured workers on federal lands like the U.S. Department of Energy’s Hanford site. The ruling challenged a lawsuit by the Trump administration, which sued Washington over the state’s 2018 presumption law (RCW 51.32.187) that made it easier for Hanford workers to open a Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) claim for covered conditions.

The covered diseases and conditions include neurological disease, respiratory disease, beryllium disease, certain cancers and heart problems, if they came about within 72 hours of exposure to fumes, toxic substances, or chemicals at Hanford. Under the 2018 state law, those conditions were presumed to be related to work at the Hanford site unless proven otherwise. Before the law was passed, Hanford employees suffering from an illness had to prove that it was not caused by something else in their lives.

While exposure to toxic chemicals and radiological exposure are covered conditions for workers compensation, a lack of scientific studies on the effects of exposure to toxic chemicals has made it difficult for certain workers to obtain the L&I benefits they deserve.

In July, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and U.S. Representative Adam Smith (D, WA-09) introduced the Toxic Exposure Safety Act of 2020, which outlines a plan to support medical and scientific studies aimed at clarifying the links between various illnesses and toxic exposure at federal nuclear cleanup sites like Hanford. A fact sheet on the proposed legislation provides further information.

Click To Download Our Hanford Workers Informational PDF

If you have a workers’ compensation, L&I, or other employment law claim, contact Emery Reddy for a free consultation. You won’t get better advice.

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