A publication of Appalachian Voices


A publication of Appalachian Voices

Across Appalachia

Workers Exposed to Toxins at Kingston Ash Spill Cleanup

By Kimber Ray

A federal lawsuit alleges that Jacobs Engineering Group knowingly exposed workers to toxic substances during cleanup of the 2008 coal fly ash spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant in Harriman, Tenn.

The lawsuit, filed Aug. 22, claims Jacobs Engineering deliberately misrepresented the health hazards of fly ash, failed to provide adequate protection to workers, and engaged in improper air quality monitoring. According to the Knox News, the cleanup crew was told that “you could drink fly ash daily and suffer no adverse health effects.”

Workers contend that not only were requests for protective equipment such as dust masks and respirators denied, but also that some workers prescribed such equipment by their doctors were ordered not to wear it.

Jacobs Engineering is also implicated in manipulating air monitoring systems to cover up the extent of hazardous site conditions. To prevent dust movement near the air monitors, the company kept the area near the monitors wet and placed the systems in locations with favorable wind conditions.

While a number of research studies warned of the health hazards posed by coal ash, Dr. Gregory Button, of the University of Tennessee, told the Times Free Press that the TVA assisted government officials in authoring a report that found no harm to the community’s health was expected from the spill.

Mining Waste Polluting the New River

Despite mounting evidence that dangerously high levels of zinc are flowing into Appalachia’s New River from the Indian Branch tributary in Wythe County, Va., Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality has done little to address the issue.

Local citizens began expressing concerns to the department earlier this year when dissolved minerals in the water caused a milky discoloration. At that time, the level of zinc in Indian Branch was over 30 times the EPA established safe limit. By July that level had soared to 130 times the allowable limit.

A former zinc mine site, now owned by Dixon Lumber Company, was identified as the source of the pollution. A pipe that channeled Indian Branch beneath a field of mine tailings had a leak that was complicated by this year’s unusually heavy rains, contaminating the waterway.

Zinc poisoning can result in headaches, nausea and diarrhea; long-term exposure compromises immunity and cardiovascular health.

Following a Washington Times article by Lisa King regarding the zinc contamination, the department has met with associates from Dixon Lumber to establish a plan for addressing water quality issues.

Summer Rains Dampen Fall Colors

Among the vibrant display of autumn leaves, red may be missing from this season’s palette. According to Kathy Mathews, an associate professor of biology at Western Carolina University, there are three main factors that bestow red coloration: ample sunshine, dry air, and cool temperatures. With this year’s uncommonly wet summer, yellow and orange could be the dominant fall colors. However, the cool nights of September might yet redeem the brilliant reds of fall.

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