My question is not an apathetic “Who cares about Hanford?” but rather: “Who cares about Hanford?” The Hanford site in Richland, Washington is half the size of Rhode Island and “the world’s largest environmental cleanup” effort, contaminated by five decades of Plutonium production for nuclear weapons. Ever heard of it? Many people -I’m talking to you, Washington state residents!- haven’t.
I am a testament to the uninformed native. I managed to graduate high school in the Seattle area without hearing a word about Hanford. During my first year at Whitman College, the topic finally came up during a sociology class. My reaction was typical of most people learning about this site for the first time: shock and disbelief that a matter so close to home could have flown under the radar for so long. I discovered that resources and information about Hanford are actually pretty bountiful, it’s just the starting point that’s hard to find.
Almost two years later, I’m excited to be here: Outreach Intern at Hanford Challenge, learning more than ever about the complexities of this issue. From my spot, I am observing -and joining- the group of people who are passionately and (to my amazement) optimistically engaged in cleaning up Hanford. Individuals care, deeply, about this issue. What’s really interesting to me as a Sociology major though is that this group of people has a pretty narrow demographic. To generalize: I interact with a lot of over-50, caucasian men. I’m a token “millennial” (and woman) here.
Needless to say, Hanford cleanup issues need a wider audience. The diverse opinions and concerns of the public need to be heard and need to have impact in the future of the site. Here’s my running list (feel free to add on) of the ways Hanford impacts all of us Washingtonians, Americans, environmentalists, and compassionate people:
- Workers at Hanford are our family and friends. These people experience physical dangers (e.g. toxic vapor exposures) as well as discrimination.
- Hanford sits alongside and contaminates the Columbia River, which is a site for recreation and provides water for drinking and crops grown nearby.
- The 586 square miles of land that this site sits on is home to the last free flowing stretch of the Columbia River and an abundance of native plants and animals in a big chunk of “relatively undisturbed” shrub-steppe environment (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service). Would you like to see historic Native American land reopened for its former tribal inhabitants? Would you enjoy more access to hike or build a home there in the future?
- Hanford costs taxpayers. Cleanup costs for the remainder of work are estimated to be $107.7 billion (2016 Hanford Lifecycle Scope, Schedule and Cost Report).
- Hanford defines Washington state’s history. Everyone deserves to know that narrative and to have open communication about current events at the site.
Of course, it’s not enough just to care. Involvement needs to happen, and the engagement step is harder. Here’s what anyone -no matter how close to or far from Hanford they are- can do:
- Spread the word. Tell others about Hanford. Spark thoughtful conversations. (And keep researching and watching the news).
- Ask educators you know to provide you with information on the issue: show that you want to engage with the events at Hanford.
- Demonstrate to your elected officials that you care- share your opinions!
- Write a public comment.
- Volunteer, intern or interview members of a party involved (only a few: EPA, HAB, Hanford Challenge).
In the noise that is life and all its news, remember Hanford. I am certain that once everyone knows about this issue, everyone will care. With everyone’s energy, we can define the legacy that we are leaving at the Hanford site.
Signe Lindquist is Outreach Intern at Hanford Challenge. She is a current Junior majoring in Sociology- Environmental Studies and Spanish at Whitman College and brings her background of nonprofit campaigning, event planning, and social media management to working with Hanford Challenge and engaging with the next generation to inherit Hanford.