My name is Jackie Yeh, and I am a junior at Charles Wright Academy in Tacoma. You might think, why is this teenager writing about Hanford? Or why does she care? Why should anyone care? Well, I’ll tell you.
In the desert in Southeast Washington near the Columbia River lies one of of the most contaminated places in the whole United States: the Hanford Site, a federal government-owned and operating site encompassing approximately 586 square miles. Previously, this site was part of the Manhattan Project, which helped create the atomic bomb during World War II.
Creating plutonium for bomb production left the site environmentally devastated. Currently over 11,000 employees work at Hanford each day on cleanup. This work consists of everything from disposing of the protective clothing worn by workers and the equipment used in the process of making plutonium, to the retrieval and treatment of radioactive and chemical waste that remains as part of that process. This waste must be remediated to prevent contamination of the Columbia River and surrounding land. It is estimated that nearly 1million gallons of nuclear waste have leaked from the underground storage tanks at Hanford, resulting in serious environmental concern. Finishing the entire project is estimated to cost over $140 billion.
Why should we care? Well, imagine yourself in one of these worker’s shoes. You’ve been working at the tank farms for years. One day, you’re sent to help investigate the contents of a tank with a camera. But while standing near the tank, all of a sudden… Whoosh! You’ve been exposed to chemical vapors. You may have difficulty breathing. You may cough up blood. Years later, you find out you have been diagnosed with a rare cancer, and you don’t know what caused it because there are so many chemicals at the Hanford Site and so few precautions shielding you from potential hazards on the job. Your life has been changed forever. Whose fault was it? What do you do? Ten seconds of exposure on the job can lead to serious health issues. This is what can happen to some workers at the Hanford site. And this is precisely why YOU should care.
With more public awareness and a bigger team of people passionate about Hanford, we can make a difference in cleanup decisions. Young people and people of all ages should care about Hanford because it is a big issue. People all around us have been affected, and not enough has been done to fix the problem! We need to join together as a community and do all that we can to fix this problem. If safety protocols are followed properly, workers will be better protected from possible injury on the site.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I really hope that YOU take the time and help us change Hanford for the better. Even just doing some research or just telling a friend about the issue can make someone else’s world brighter because we need more people to be aware of these issues! Just remember, YOU can make a difference. Like Desmond Tutu once said, “It’s those little bits of good, put together, that overwhelm the world.” And you can help overwhelm the world. I know it. So let’s all start today! #hanfordcleanupmatters
We got this.
by: Jackie Yeh