Coal Ash Wednesday: Illness and death have plagued TVA cleanup workers

Compounding the catastrophe with more irresponsible behavior:

The TVA paid for as many as 900 people to contain and remove the pollution, some working 12-hour shifts for months at a time. The sludge dried into a fine dust that sparkled like glitter and sometimes whirled into clouds so thick, drivers could barely see past the hoods of their trucks.

In Associated Press interviews, workers said they were healthy before breathing the ash, but have since suffered unusual symptoms. They recalled joking darkly about "coal ash flu" before suffering strange lesions and seeing their skin flake off like fish scales. At least 40 co-workers have died, they said, some gruesomely, collapsing and coughing up blood. "We cleaned it up in a little over five years, and it would've took 25 years to do it the right way," said Doug Bledsoe, who drove trucks there and now has brain and lung cancer.

Let's say it again for those in the back rows: "Heavy metals persist." Mercury, Arsenic, Lead, are all heavy metals that survive the coal-burning process, often in the form of fly-ash, which is such a fine particulate that it remains airborne longer than other residuals, and more easily penetrates the soft tissues (and even bloodstream). That fly-ash also contains radioactive isotopes, which are probably responsible for many of the cancers. It's not just nasty, it's deadly, and the civil court system in Tennessee is allowing even more of these folks to die because of the "phases" they have to go through to get relief:

A jury in Knoxville decided within hours that the TVA's contractor, Jacobs Engineering, breached its safety duties, exposing hundreds of cleanup workers to airborne "fly ash" with known carcinogens. The jurors said Jacobs' actions were capable of making the workers sick. The key question of whether they caused each worker's injuries was left for a different jury in a second phase of the civil trial.

More than 200 workers blame the contractor for exposing them to ash they say caused a slew of illnesses, some fatal, including cancers of the lung, brain, blood and skin.

Despite last November's favorable verdict for the first 72 plaintiffs, they won't get monetary damages unless they can prove exactly what caused their specific illnesses. The judge, alluding to their urgent need for medical care, ordered mediation. More than a hundred other plaintiffs await the outcome.

"To have the burden put on you, that you have to prove what caused these horrific things -- that's an atrocity," said Janie Clark, whose husband, Ansol, has a rare blood cancer after driving a fuel truck at the site. "I guess that's just the law."

Instead of working through mediation to try and help these folks, Jacobs Engineering is playing the long game of denial, but their bad behavior will eventually catch up with them:

Jacobs’ safety managers have testified they had no experience with or specialized knowledge about coal ash when TVA chose the firm to oversee the cleanup. TVA is continuing to do business with Jacobs, to the tune of at least $200 million in new deals awarded since the verdict.

Workers testified that Jacobs’ safety managers told them they could safely eat a pound of coal ash daily. The company says the statements were not meant to be taken literally.

Jacobs’ safety managers denied workers protective masks or respirators and Tyvek body suits, destroyed boxes of dust masks when workers sought to wear them and tampered with tests designed to protect them, according to depositions and trial testimony.

Yeah, not just negligent, but intentionally undermining workers when they tried to protect themselves. This should have been dealt with in the criminal courts.

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