Workers Demand Compensation after Kingston Coal Ash Exposure

In April, workers with health problems allegedly resulting from the cleanup of the 2008 Kingston coal ash spill rejected a $10 million settlement from Tennessee Valley Authority contractor Jacobs Engineering. Jacobs accused the laborers of leaking information about the failed settlement to the press and attempted to impose financial sanctions on them, but a judge rejected Jacobs’ claims in July, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

At least 50 workers have died from illnesses they credit to coal ash exposure and sickened hundreds more as of July. Plaintiffs claim that Jacobs deprived them of adequate protective equipment and training when cleaning the site, which contained contaminants such as arsenic, aluminum oxide and other toxic substances found in coal ash.

Shortly after workers rejected the settlement, the Knoxville News Sentinel revealed that Jacobs offered $10,000 each to 197 of the workers to drop the lawsuit. It is unclear if any took the deal.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is also coming under fire for its lack of transparency pertaining to the level of toxic materials workers may have been in contact with.

Tests ordered by TDEC in 2009 detected radium and uranium in the coal ash. But a Knoxville News Sentinel investigation found that TDEC failed to include these readings for radium and cut readings for uranium by 98 percent in a 2010 public report on the toxicity of the spilled coal ash. In a statement to the News Sentinel, TDEC acknowledged that the radium reading was valid but credited its exclusion from the report as a data entry error. Though the agency asserts no radium was found in 11 other samples tested, TDEC has not produced any lab reports to support the claim. However, TDEC now admits it removed readings of unsafe uranium levels collected from areas near the plant from the public report.

The workers are pushing for the next phase of trials, during which they could sue for damages, to take place by early 2021. — By Emerson Wells


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