Hanford and Public Health

Image of Hanford monitoring station

Current Updates

Department of Health's role at Hanford​

The Washington State Department of Health has monitored the environment in and around the Hanford Site for radioactivity near Richland for several decades as an independent party to verify measurements taken by the U.S. Department of Energy, which is in charge of cleanup at the site.

We support the work of Tri-Party Agreement members: Washington State Department of Ecology, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Department of Energy.

Our role at Hanford is to monitor the environment for any radioactivity that could create a risk for communities outside the Hanford boundaries. We operate 17 radioactive air monitors in and around the Hanford Site to verify air emissions are within regulatory limits. Our staff collects environmental samples on and off the Hanford Site, provides meteorological information, contaminant transport modeling, liaison support with the state Public Health Laboratories, and the Benton-Franklin Health Department. Pictured above right: DOH and DOE air samplers on Hanford with Columbia Generating Station in the background.

Image of worker taking a sample

Monitoring and verifying during demolition at the former Plutonium Finishing Plant

In mid-December 2017, we were alerted that demolition work had stopped at the Hanford Plutonium Finishing Plant because an unexpected airborne release of radioactivity was found. The stop work was lifted and demolition activities resumed for two days. Work stopped again when contamination was found at several locations around administration trailers - outside the work-control area.

Contamination was also found on several vehicles. Seven were personal vehicles, which were decontaminated and returned to the owners. Two were driven off Hanford. Department of Energy offered home surveys to workers to check for any contamination. Our staff accompanied DOE staff to verify survey results and offer help to families, if needed. Several homes were surveyed and no contamination was found.

  • We found low levels of americium and plutonium during air sampling through December 2017.
  • Both americium and plutonium are radioactive materials that were produced at the PFP.
  • In order to reach the 10-millirem dose, someone would need to be at the same location for one year.
  • We continue to monitor for radioactivity in the air and take additional environmental samples in the vicinity.
  • Although these higher levels are detectable, they are still well below regulatory limits and do not pose a public health risk.
  • Both federal and state governments set safety limits for exposure to 10 millirems of radioactivity over one year.
  • One chest X-ray exposes someone to 10 millirems of radioactivity.

Our role at Hanford is off-site monitoring and we want Hanford employees to be in a safe work environment. As PFP demolition goes forward, Tri-Party members will rely on our monitoring data and expertise about radioactivity in the environment.

Information for Hanford employees

For more information about Department of Health's work at Hanford, email RadiationInfo@doh.wa.gov