Hanford Medical Provider Says Difficult to Confirm Worker Report - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Hanford Medical Provider Says Difficult to Confirm Worker Reports of Chemical Vapor Exposure

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When a Hanford tank farm worker feels common symptoms of chemical vapor exposure they go straight to HPMC Hanford Occupational Health Services. The symptoms sound startling to many people, but most of the workers get sent back to work after the routine ev When a Hanford tank farm worker feels common symptoms of chemical vapor exposure they go straight to HPMC Hanford Occupational Health Services. The symptoms sound startling to many people, but most of the workers get sent back to work after the routine ev
RICHLAND, WA - When a Hanford tank farm worker feels common symptoms of chemical vapor exposure they go straight to HPMC Hanford Occupational Health Services. The symptoms sound startling to many people, but most of the workers get sent back to work after the routine evaluation. 

Burning eyes, nasal and throat irritation, cough and a strange taste in the mouth. These are some of the symptoms the Hanford site medical provider says workers are reporting.

At HPMC, doctors follow a routine evaluation of the workers.

"Looking in the nose, looking in the throat, looking in the eyes, ears, listening to the lungs. Then determine if any other tests need to be done. Usually they end up getting a chest x-ray or sometimes a pulmonary function test if they're complaining about any difficulty breathing or wheezing or coughing," said Dr. Sandy Rock, HPMC Risk Communicator.

But Rock says there isn't typically enough exposure to cause anything they can actually see.
"We don't see a nasal irritation, we don't see red throat, we don't hear any wheezes in the lungs or anything. It's pretty rare to hear that. So it's usually the reporting by the patient worker as to whether there's any symptoms or not. Symptoms are thing people report. Signs are things that we can see," Rock said.

HPMC says it's difficult to know what chemicals workers were exposed to because there's only a few chemicals they can test for like mercury and lead.  
"There's a misconception that you can come in and get tested for the gases that you get exposed to and that's just not the case. I hope someday we'll have that, but it's not available to us. Medical science hasn't developed that," Rock said.

HPMC says it's largely up to the worker when they go back to work after they report exposure symptoms.
"How do you feel about going back to work? Do you feel up to it? Do you feel ok? A large percentage usually says, yeah I'm fine I can go back to work. Some will say, I'm feeling kind of gimpy or maybe dizzy or something like that. So we'll take them off work and have them come back a few days later or the next day or whenever is appropriate. It's a clinical judgement," said Rock.

When asked if there could be long term health effects from chemical vapor exposure, Rock said he didn't know.
"We wouldn't anticipate there would be, but we can't say for sure that there aren't. It's like exposure to anything, driving out behind a diesel truck on a highway," said Rock.


HPMC says if workers have on-going symptoms then they are referred to see their own physician.
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