In December 2008, the largest coal ash spill in U.S. history took place when a dike broke at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Kingston fossil fuel plant. More than a billion gallons of coal fly ash and water spilled out, flooding nearby homes and contaminating the Emory River and surrounding waterbodies. The TVA contracted a firm, Jacobs Engineering, to handle the cleanup. The company, in turn, hired hundreds of workers to perform cleanup operations. Both the TVA and Jacobs Engineering told the workers time and again that exposure to the coal ash was completely safe. One official went so far as to tell workers they could eat a pound a day without worry.
Not suspecting the dangers because they were repeatedly told it was harmless, these workers worked without protective gear even in the most dangerous areas of the site, and then brought soiled clothes home to be laundered, exposing their spouses and children to the coal ash dust. Within a year of the cleanup getting underway, workers and their families began getting sick. When they raised concerns and asked for respiratory protection and protective gear, their requests were denied.
Workers, spouses of workers, and next of kin of deceased workers filed suit against Jacobs Engineering, Inc., alleging several claims — negligence, recklessness, fraud, and misrepresentation, among others. In November 2018, a jury found that the company had breached its contract with TVA and endangered workers. The litigation is ongoing, with the next phase of the lawsuit focusing on each plaintiff’s individual case.
Image source: Jamie Satterfield, Kingston Coal Ash Case: From Spill to Sicknesses to Lawsuits, Knoxville News Sentinel (Feb. 5, 2019)