AG calls for investigation of Yucca construction hazards
September 14, 2004
Attorney General Brian Sandoval has called on the inspector general of the federal Department of Energy to investigate allegations of dangerous health violations during construction of Yucca Mountain.
In a letter to Gregory Friedman of the DOE, Sandoval referred to a private lawsuit filed in Las Vegas on Sept. 1 charging that employees and visitors to Yucca Mountain were repeatedly exposed to dangerous levels of silica dust during construction of the Yucca tunnels.
“I have reviewed the lawsuit and believe it raises grave issues of possible corruption, malfeasance, and deliberate violations of law by Department of Energy contractors who dug several miles of tunnels at the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository site, with the result that thousands of people working or visiting in the tunnels apparently were exposed to potentially life-threatening levels of silica and other carcinogenic dusts,” the letter states.
It says a number of those workers have already contracted silicosis – a progressive disease which eventually destroys the lungs.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 10 former workers, but seeks status as a class- action suit on behalf of all workers exposed to dangerous levels of silica dust from 1992 through 2000.
It also covers all visitors to the Yucca Mountain site who were exposed for more than two hours – potentially thousands of people.
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It names Bechtel Corp., TRW and several other contractors involved in constructing the site and drilling more than five miles of tunnels under Yucca Mountain, charging they “intentionally, deliberately, callously and/or with reckless disregard, exposed workers and visitors to known, highly carcinogenic airborne hazards.”
It says those contractors “fraudulently concealed the nature of such hazards and they took measures to deceive workers and visitors by hiding, doctoring or failing to accumulate key data on actual workplace conditions.”
The suit says those dangerous conditions were hidden until exposed publicly earlier this year. And during those years, the suit charges, contractors took extensive efforts, including threatening employees with the loss of their jobs, to conceal the dangerous levels of silica dust being generated in the tunnel drilling and ordering them to change their reports. It says the company repeatedly downplayed the dangers to workers and didn’t provide proper respiratory gear and protective clothing during the drilling.
Sandoval’s letter says he was “particularly struck by the extensive number of documentary citations that were compiled in the complaint, most taken from the DOE or contractor records.
“It clearly warrants a thorough investigation by your office, which I assume is already underway,” the letter states.
And it says the state will be closely following the matter to determine if state action is warranted.
Contact Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.