A federal jury in Tennessee ruled in favor of workers, many of whom fell ill and died after the company in charge of a coal ash spill cleanup failed to keep them safe during the project earlier this November.
“Workers who were sickened after cleaning up the country's worst ever coal ash spill may now be able to seek damages after a federal jury this week ruled that the company hired to clean up the spill failed to keep workers safe and even endangered them,” said Alisa Chang on a recent episode of All Things Considered.
A decade ago, the dike that helped to contain the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Fossil Plant’s coal ash failed. This caused sludge to pour out and seriously damage surrounding communities. Approximately 900 workers came to help clean up the spill, but the dangers of this work would not become clear until later – now, an estimated 250 people were seriously sickened, and another 20 people died.
According to reports, the workers were not provided with any masks or articles of protective clothing while working with the highly toxic materials. Coal ash can contain a myriad of dangerous chemicals and toxins, including cadmium, lead, mercury, arsenic, and more. According to Knoxville News Sentinel reporter Jamie Satterfield, who had been following the legal proceedings since 2017,
“Jacobs Engineering, this firm that was put in charge of the cleanup, they not only did not tell the workers the danger of coal ash, they didn't explain to them what was in it. And in fact, they lied to them. They told them that they could safely eat a pound of coal ash, which again is full of toxins, every day and be safe.”
Satterfield said that Jacobs Engineering and the Tennessee Valley Authority pushed back on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) when it pushed for the workers to be provided with respiratory protections and Tyvek suits. On top of that, workers who later demanded respiratory protection after people started to get sick were reportedly fired.