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Over 200 workers claim their health was destroyed by Tennessee coal ash spill cleanup

28 March 2018

The Kingston coal fly ash slurry spill occurred on December 22, 2008, when an ash dike ruptured at a solid waste containment area at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston power plant in Roane County, Tennessee. More than 4 million cubic metres of coal fly ash slurry was released, covering more than one square kilometre of the surrounding land.

Kingston Ash Slide - Image: Tennessee Valley Authority
Kingston Ash Slide - Image: Tennessee Valley Authority

This was the largest fly ash release in United States history, causing damage to 42 residential properties. The spill killed many fish in affected rivers, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

On January 1, 2009, the first independent test results, conducted by scientists from Appalachian State University, showed significantly elevated levels of toxic metals (including arsenic, copper, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, nickel, and thallium) in samples of slurry and river water.

Now, attorneys have filed a lawsuit in Roane County Circuit Court on behalf of 233 dead or dying labourers. The death toll among the cleanup workers now tops 30, while at least 200 are said to be seriously ill with lung diseases, cancers, skin conditions and other ailments linked in medical research to the toxic stew of chemicals and metals in coal ash.

They allege they were exposed to unsafe working conditions by cleanup contractor, Jacobs Engineering.

USA Today Network discovered evidence, including secret video filmed by workers at the cleanup site, that a TVA contractor overseeing the work lied to laborers about the toxicity of coal ash, refused to provide them protective gear, threatened to fire them if they brought their own, manipulated toxicity test results and abandoned testing for the most dangerous chemicals entirely well before the seven-year cleanup effort ended.

Jacobs Engineering’s attorney says in federal court pleadings the workers cannot prove a direct link between their illnesses and coal ash exposure, and that ultimately the plant's owner, the TVA, is responsible,  

The judge on the case has ruled the workers’ attorneys must first prove causation before the case for damages can be mounted.

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