Communities honor Kingston coal ash cleanup workers with video, billboards, and ceremony for 15th spill anniversary

December 19, 2023

Dan Radmacher, Appalachian Voices, (540) 798-6683,

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — To honor cleanup workers for the 15th anniversary of TVA’s Kingston Coal Ash Spill, communities released a powerful short video and set up five billboards. Roane County, which just established the spill anniversary as an annual day of remembrance for the workers, will also hold a ceremony on Dec. 22 at 10 a.m. ET on the steps of the Roane County Courthouse: 200 E Race St #11, Kingston, TN 37763.

On Dec. 22, 2008, a dike containing coal ash from TVA’s coal-fired Kingston Fossil Plant ruptured. The broken dike released 1.1 billion gallons of coal ash slurry into surrounding rivers and neighborhoods, with a force that pushed homes off their foundations. It remains the biggest industrial spill in U.S. history.

Over the next six years, nearly 900 workers cleaned up this toxic disaster unprotected, as TVA’s contractor denied them personal protective equipment like respirators. Hundreds of workers have since come forward with illnesses, and over 60 have died.

Workers, their families and allies have not stopped fighting for justice, and to make sure no other community suffers what they did. This new, 5-minute video telling their stories is part of that work. It is dedicated to the memories of two late cleanup workers: Tommy Johnson, who passed away earlier this year, and Ansol Clark, who passed away in 2021.

Earlier this month, the Roane County Commission responded to the leadership of impacted families by setting the spill anniversary as an annual day of remembrance for workers and committing funds for a Tennessee Historical Marker.

Janie Clark, widow of Ansol Clark, said: “Knowing there are people who have compassion for [our loved] ones — some of whom they do not know nor have personally met — greatly helps in healing the broken hearts of those who have lost loved ones, and for the living to be shown the respect for which they genuinely deserve.”

For the next four weeks, people can see the billboards honoring workers on streets and major highways outside Knoxville and near the spill site. Each billboard features artwork by Ansol Clark, who drew the image with doves about six months before his passing. Doves have become a powerful symbol for remembering the workers.

Betty Johnson, widow of Tommy Johnson, thanked the organizations who donated funds for the billboards and the commission for standing with families. She continued, “For me personally, I’m taking it one day at a time. Life is different for me, and I know God’s going to help me through.”

Please visit for more details about the workers’ ongoing fight for justice, and reach out with any questions.

Billboard Locations:

  • Billboard 1: I-75 0.9 Mi N/O Lenoir City Exit 81 ES FS, Dec. 25 – Dec. 31
  • Billboard 2: Highway 72 E/O Centre Park Drive SS-FW, Dec. 18 – Dec. 31
  • Billboard 3: ST 62 .2 MI N/O Burchfield ES FS, Dec. 18 – Dec. 31
  • Billboard 4: 1238 S Roane Street WS FS, Dec. 18 – Jan. 14
  • Billboard 5: I-40 .2 MI E/O Midtown Exit 350 SS FW, Dec. 18 – Jan. 14