By Eric M. Johnson
SEATTLE (Reuters) - The U.S. government has failed to adequately protect crews involved in a decades-long cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state, leaving workers sickened by exposure to toxic vapors, the state alleged in a lawsuit filed on Wednesday.
"For years, Washington workers have been exposed to noxious fumes and chemical vapors as they clean up the federal government's nuclear site at Hanford," state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.
"Enough is enough. The health risks are real, and the state is taking action today to ensure the federal government protects these workers now and in the future," Ferguson said.
The Hanford Nuclear Reservation, a World War Two-era nuclear weapons site in southeastern Washington, has 56 million gallons (212 million liters) of nuclear waste in 177 underground tanks, several with known leaks, according to federal officials.
The U.S. Department of Energy, which owns Hanford, is responsible for cleanup at the site, including the hiring of contractors and workers to extract the waste from tanks for safe disposal.
(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Steve Gorman and Eric Beech)