Cleaning Up Hanford

Uniting People to Hold the Government Accountable for Hanford Cleanup.

A Program of Eternal Hope

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Simone Anter
Simone Anter. (Photo by Modoc Stories.)

I recently visited Seattle for a legal conference on the state of Northwest fisheries. In between days focused on salmon recovery, Snake River dam removal, and orcas, I headed to Belltown, where I was thrilled to find a local ice cream favorite, Salt and Straw. (If you haven’t been there I highly recommend it, especially for their decadent vegan options.) As I drove, narrowly missing several curbs as my focus was pulled every which way on the bustling streets, my goldfish-like attention caught something brilliant. Taking up an entire corner building was the local Patagonia store. Its many windows were hand-painted with the words, “We all live downriver from Hanford” (or something to that effect; remember, I was driving and shouldn’t have been reading to begin with). I noticed a winding Columbia River and fish in the artwork. My heart skipped a beat. It was so important to see this reminder that we are all connected to the Hanford Nuclear Site and it was particularly moving to experience this awareness in another city. I later learned that one of our amazing partner organizations, Hanford Challenge, was responsible for the installation of this mural.

Columbia Riverkeeper’s Cleaning Up Hanford program is one of eternal hope. Working on a cleanup with no end in a single lifetime presents unique challenges that our team grapples with every day. Radioactive and toxic pollution from Hanford threatens water quality, salmon and people’s health. Contamination from Hanford still reaches the Columbia River. Without effective cleanup, more pollution threatens to escape into the environment in the coming decades. In 2023, Columbia Riverkeeper used public pressure, grassroots organizing, and technical assessment of cleanup plans to advocate for thorough, timely cleanup.

Yakama Nation Tribal Council Member Christopher Wallahee shaking hands with students at the end of the Hanford Journey.
Students at the Hanford Journey. (Photo by David Moskowitz.)
Some of our greatest triumphs?

Together with Yakama Nation’s Environmental Restoration/Waste Management (ERWM) program, we brought nearly 70 students from the Yakama Nation Tribal School to Hanford for a bus tour of their homeland. Guided by their Tribal leaders and elders, students were able to visit the place that their ancestors have visited and occupied since time immemorial to learn about the pollution and toxic legacy that they are inheriting. This uncanny field trip built on years of collaborative school presentations by ERWM and Columbia Riverkeeper to the Tribal School and other local schools around the Yakama Indian Reservation, an effort to prepare the next generation for the difficulties of Hanford.

Sharing these stories of triumph and resiliency pertaining to cleanup beyond the Tri-Cities and even Washington state is essential, because like the Patagonia mural, we are all downriver from Hanford. With this in mind, we secured regional and national NPR coverage of the field trip, so that even more individuals could hear about the importance of a proper cleanup from those most impacted. As climate change continues to alter the landscape—affecting groundwater levels, the position of the Columbia, the stability of aging infrastructure, and the federal budget—Hanford remains a threat to us all.

The night before the school trip, Columbia Riverkeeper Board President Emily Washines (Yakama) spoke to an audience of elected officials, Tribal members, reporters, and other Hanford cleanup advocates. “When I think about being able to speak for the resources, those not yet born, I think about the people in this room,” she shared. “I think about the messages that we carry... the messages that we give to our children and even other youth in the community about what we have to do. Because it’s going to take all of us in order to make and restore this area and land again.”

Holding the U.S. government accountable for effectively cleaning up the most toxic and radioactive place in America demands environmentalists, scientists, cultural resources experts, geologists, fisher people…the list goes on. But most importantly, the cleanup needs all of us.


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