“At one point, workers were told ‘you could drink fly ash daily and suffer no adverse health effects,’ according to the complaint …. In fact, when some workers were prescribed respirators or protective masks, ‘they were ordered not to wear said items.'”
by Bob Flowers / knoxnews.com
They call it Fly Ash Flu.
It’s the name some workers at the Kingston ash spill site gave health woes they say they incurred from prolonged exposure to a witch’s brew of toxic substances in coal ash.
A federal lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court targets the company hired by TVA to make sure cleanup of the disastrous coal ash spill at its Kingston Fossil Plant [in Tennessee] was done safely.
Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., an international provider of professional technical services based in Pasadena, Calif., had a TVA contract that “greatly exceeded $40 million” to oversee safety guidelines, according to the lawsuit.
The complaint seeks compensatory damages for pain and suffering and punitive damages of up to 20 percent of all contracts Jacobs Engineering had with TVA for its work.
The lawsuit hadn’t been served on Jacobs Engineering late Thursday.
Knoxville attorney James K. Scott filed the 21-page complaint on behalf of 34 current and former workers at the ash spill cleanup site, along with 17 spouses.
Other plaintiffs are expected to join the complaint, Scott said Thursday.
Virtually all of the plaintiffs have respiratory problems, Scott said. Other health issues range from heart problems to sinus ailments to skin rashes.
The federal complaint alleges that Jacobs Engineering knew coal ash contained toxic, hazardous substances but lied to workers about it.
At one point, workers were told “you could drink fly ash daily and suffer no adverse health effects,” according to the complaint.
Arsenic, mercury, strontium, asbestos, selenium and thallium, along with particles of quartz, boron, lead and aluminum oxide, are found in fly ash, the suit states.
Workers asked for dust masks, respirators and protective equipment, the lawsuit avers, but “such requests were denied.”
In fact, when some workers were prescribed respirators or protective masks, “they were ordered not to wear said items.”
“Early on in the spill aftermath I raised concern about the impact on the health of the Roane County citizens due to the toxic constituents in the coal ash,” Roane County Commissioner Randy Ellis said Thursday.
Ellis represents the Swan Pond community that was ground zero for the ash spill.
Ellis said the lawsuit reveals internal documents “that clearly outline the toxicity of the fly ash” and exposes allegations “that this fact was covered up.”
John Cox, 52, of Knoxville, one of the plaintiffs, worked as a truck driver on the ash spill site for four years.
He said he left for health reasons because he had developed chronic bronchitis.
Cox said his doctor told him that “in all probability” his prolonged exposure to fly ash led to the ailment.
Cox said he received a prescription from his doctor to wear a dust mask while working. He took that prescription to Jacobs Engineering, he said, “but I was told they don’t supply dust masks.”
After weeks of “back and forth,” Cox said, he was finally allowed to wear a dust mask he had purchased, but that was short-lived because his breathing worsened and he left work there.
Ansol Clark, also of Knoxville, said he drove a fuel truck at the cleanup site “from the moment it blowed out” until March 15, 2013.
On Dec. 22, 2008, a holding cell at the coal-burning Kingston Fossil Plant failed, sending 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash into the Emory River, embayments and onto the Roane County countryside.
Clark said he now has an irregular heartbeat, and his doctor told him that “part of my problem is the fly ash.”
“Everybody had sinus problems that you could not believe,” he said. “We’d have red eyes and runny noses for months at a time.”
“They would tell us it didn’t have a darn thing to do with the ash. They said it was pollen in the air.
“All of the workers came up with a name for it — Fly Ash Flu. Once you’ve got it, you can’t get rid of it.”
When workers requested a respirator or a dust mask, “They would tell you not to ask for it,” Clark said. “You’d get on the hit list if you started asking for stuff about safety. Layoffs would happen.”
Jacobs Engineering also engaged in “improper air monitoring of the fly ash in violation of federal and state laws,” the lawsuit states.
“They had water trucks that ran around those monitors,” said Clark. “They kept it sopping wet.”
Clark said that when the fly ash dried out, “It’s a real fine particulate. It will go anywhere.”
Clark also said air monitoring systems were placed in locations “where the wind was blowing in the opposite direction,” and on-site ash clouds weren’t detected.
The lawsuit states nine claims for relief, ranging from failure to warn workers of the health hazards to fraud to liability for noncompliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations at a Superfund cleanup site.