Former Hanford Worker Sick from Nuclear Waste Spill Speaks Out - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Former Hanford Worker Sick from Nuclear Waste Spill Speaks Out

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NBC Right Now spoke with a former Hanford worker exposed to chemical vapors on the job. He wasn't a tank farm worker. He was a truck driver at the Hanford site. NBC Right Now spoke with a former Hanford worker exposed to chemical vapors on the job. He wasn't a tank farm worker. He was a truck driver at the Hanford site.
RICHLAND, WA - NBC Right Now spoke with a former Hanford worker exposed to chemical vapors on the job. He wasn't a tank farm worker. He was a truck driver at the Hanford site.

Lonnie Poteet arrived outside a tank farm to deliver some fuel and quickly started feeling symptoms from exposure to chemical vapors.What he didn't know was a nuclear waste spill happened hours before at the tank farm.  

"I was already burning from my glove line to my t-shirt line and the side of my face and I was already starting to lose a little bit of vision in my right eye," Poteet said.

It all happened so fast. On July 27th 2007, Lonnie Poteet, a contracted worker, drove up to site to deliver some fuel. At the time, CH2M Hill was managing the tank farm cleanup and failed to notify all workers about the spill.

The spill reportedly happened at 2:10am. Poteet arrived at the fence line of the tank farm at 10:00am.

"Very frustrated. When they told their crews that showed up that day to go to work to stay in because they had a potential spill, they held them back, but notified nobody else. They put me in harms way. Specifically they asked me to be there as late in the day as possible. They knew I was coming. Why didn't they say something?" Poteet said.

Poteet describes living his life now as recluse because of his health issues following exposure to chemical vapors. He wears sunglasses because he has vision loss in his right eye and is sensitive to light. He has sharp pains in his head and they cause him to often twitch. He says medication prevents him from collapsing in pain due to severe nerve damage in his brain.

But the most painful part of Poteet's story to hear is his fear of not being around to watch his grandson grow up. Poteet takes care of his grandson. He worries he might collapse one day and not wake up.  

Poteet doesn't want to see more workers go through what he deals with every day.
"They're going to be exposed to the same situation I am. That's my concern for them. Nobody is going to do anything to stop it. I don't care what they say in the papers. As long as there's profit in what they're doing and they get their bonuses on a decent time, that's all they care about," said Poteet.

CH2M Hill was fined more than $300,000 by the Department of Energy for nuclear safety violations. CH2M Hill no longer manages the tank farm cleanup. Washington River Protection Solutions now currently does that work.

Poteet says companies may change, but DOE remains in charge and the culture of cleanup continues to get Hanford workers sick.


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