Jacobs Engineering, the government contractor hired to clean up and remediate the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) disastrous 2008 coal ash spill, failed to protect its workers from the slew of toxins in the sludgy waste, a federal jury has found.
The Dallas-based global contractor employed hundreds of construction workers to clean TVA’s coal ash spill, which occurred when the company’s retaining ponds and facilities in Kingston, Tennessee failed.
The resulting food of coal ash sludge – the byproduct of coal burning to generate electricity – knocked houses from their foundations, contaminated two rivers, and covered hundreds of acres of land in the Swan Pond community with toxic sludge containing arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium and a slew of other toxins.
Nearly a decade later, more than 30 workers hired to clean up the one-billion-gallon spill have died and more than 250 others are dying or sick, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. The workers and their families sued Jacobs Engineering, alleging the contractor “tampered with testing designed to keep them and the public safe.”
“Testimony showed Jacobs began watering down both safety testing procedures and worker safety rules as soon as the EPA allowed the TVA to put [Jacobs Engineering] – which has a long history of worker safety lawsuits and even criminal charges – in charge of the Kingston site,” the News Sentinel reported.
Evidence presented during the three-week trial showed that workers were falsely assured that coal ash exposure was safe, even as many workers fell ill while working unprotected more than 60 hours a week.
One worker testified that he witnessed Tom Bock, the safety manager for Jacobs Engineering, shredding documents and saw bags of shredded documents being loaded onto the truck of a private document shredding company.
TVA’s quality assurance officer William Rogers testified that due to the strict requirements imposed by an EPA court order, there should have been no shredding or even shredders present at the site.
Plaintiffs also testified that Mr. Bock ordered dust masks kept on site for workers destroyed and refused to provide them with protective gear. Jacobs Engineering also defied an EPA directive to provide workers with showers and changing rooms. Instead, the company gave workers a cat litter box filled with water contaminated with coal ash for cleaning up.
Additionally, plaintiffs allege that Jacobs Engineering manipulated environmental monitoring tests and samples to reduce the level of coal ash dust in the air before sending them to a lab for testing.
The jury’s verdict against Jacobs Engineering allows the workers and their families to seek damages, including costs of medical testing and treatment. Many family members of the workers also say they were sickened by second-hand exposure to the coal ash dust brought home on the cloths and skin of cleanup workers.