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Judge rejects federal challenge to Hanford workers comp law

Signs are posted near the entrance to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in 2017 in Richland, Wash. (Manuel Valdes / AP)
Signs are posted near the entrance to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in 2017 in Richland, Wash. (Manuel Valdes / AP)
Associated Press

YAKIMA – A federal judge on Thursday rejected the Trump administration’s challenge to a Washington state law that makes it easier for former workers at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation to win workers compensation benefits.

The Legislature last year passed a law that says some cancers and other illnesses among the workers are assumed to have been caused by chemical or radiological exposures at work. That makes it easier for them to win their claims. Before, they had to demonstrate that their illness wasn’t caused by something else.

The U.S. government sued, saying the measure was overridden by federal law. U.S. District Judge Stanley Bastian in Yakima disagreed, saying Congress had authorized some states to regulate workers compensation on federal land.

“Hanford workers do incredibly important work cleaning up the federal government’s nuclear program,” Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a written statement. “If they get sick as a result, they deserve the ability to access the benefits they have earned.”

Hanford, near Richland, was built during World War II and made plutonium for nuclear weapons during the Cold War. It’s now the site of a massive, dangerous cleanup of nuclear waste.

The legislation was propelled through the Legislature by the concerns of sick Hanford workers frustrated by state denials of their compensation claims. The U.S. Department of Energy, which operates Hanford, is a self-insured employer and pays out claims. The state Department of Labor & Industries makes the final determination on any cases that are appealed by Hanford workers.

The Justice Department declined to comment.

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