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Washington state has announced plans to sue the federal government for improperly cleaning nuclear waste at one of its facilities.

According to a federal lawsuit filed on Wednesday, dozens of state workers were exposed to toxic vapors during the period of January 2014 and April 2015 while working at the now-closed Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Washington state lawmakers allege that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has known about the toxic vapors for decades, dating all the way back to the 1980s, yet it has failed to take action by correcting the problem.

Located on the Columbia River in Washington, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation was used by the federal government to produce nuclear weapons-grade plutonium from the 1943 to 1987, at which time it was closed. Of course, closing down a nuclear plant isn't as easy as knocking down the walls and hauling off the debris to a landfill. The radioactive waste and other toxic material must be properly dispersed to prevent residents and workers from succumbing to illness. While the Hanford Nuclear Reservation remains intact today, it's no longer used to produce weapons-grade plutonium. Instead, workers are there simply to manage and secure the facility.

Washington State lawmakers say neither the DOE nor its sub-contractors cleaned up the toxic fumes and materials left behind at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. State attorney general Bob Ferguson even claims that there are tank farms from which the vapors continue to be released, exposing the site's workers to these harmful toxins.

"Neither the Department of Energy nor its contractors have followed through to finally fix the problem and keep our workers safe," said Washington state attorney general Bob Ferguson. "If you visited Hanford today, you'd find some workers at the tank farms still exposed to vapors seeping out of these tanks."

So, just how problematic is the issue at Washington's Hanford Nuclear Reservation? In addition to reports of some 50 workers being exposed to the toxic vapors, Ferguson claims that hundreds of workers at the site have experienced symptoms ranging from nosebleeds and headaches to brain damage, respiratory failure and even fatalities.

There are an estimated 56 million gallons of toxic and radioactive waste stored at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The tanks in which the material is stored contain a single shell, and thus are viewed as offering minimal protection for workers. It's unclear whether or not the federal government will take action to clean up the waste.

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