Two organizations contracted to perform work in hazardous conditions at the Department of Energy’s Hanford site located in the state of Washington failed to maintain some critical respirator equipment within the required timeframes, the department’s internal watchdog says.

The Hanford site was one of the places chosen for the Manhattan Project to make plutonium for American nuclear weapons. The site since 1987 has been focused on cleaning up after years of involvement in weapons production work.

“Many of the hazards that Hanford contractors are potentially exposed to may cause cancer, lung impairment, or other occupational diseases,” the DOE Inspector General report explained. “If even a single respirator is improperly maintained, this has the potential to increase the risk that the worker could be exposed to hazards such as beryllium, vapors, or chemical wastes.”

The watchdog noted that it did not find that any of the equipment that had not been maintained according to requirements had ever been issued by the contractors.

The audit also found that the occupational medical provider of another contractor failed to fully fill out some obligatory medical evaluations of workers’ ability to safely utilize respirators.

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