Coal workers are dying as the disease lawsuit goes on

Nashville, Tenne (AP) – In 2013, the first of more than 200 workers working to eliminate the worst coal ash spill in the country filed a lawsuit against the contractor, accusing Jacobs Engineering of diseases they believe were caused by exposure to severe metals. and radioactive particles in the ash. Almost ten years later, no case has gone to court.

As cases dragged on, dozens who believed their work for the contractor had led to illness died.

Among them are people like Ansol Clark, who arrived at the Kingston Fossil Plant of the Tennessee Valley Office a few hours after the December 22, 2008 spill and got to work. He worked long hours in coal ash sludge with few weekends or no weekends at all for several months until he became too ill to work in 2013. He died last year from a rare blood cancer that he believed was caused by exposure to ash.

“Ensol never lived to justice,” said his wife, Jenny Clark, with whom she is nearly 50 years old. “He never did – on earth.”

Over the years, Jacobs has repeatedly tried to throw out costumes. On Wednesday, the Tennessee Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on Jacob’s latest challenge to workers’ lawsuits. The company wants a judge to dismiss a majority of the plaintiffs for failing to comply with the procedure set out in the Tennessee Silica Claims Priorities Act.

The law requires anyone claiming a claim for exposure to silica or mixed dust to provide a physician’s conclusion that exposure is a “significant factor” that contributes to the patient’s illness. For plaintiffs who file unlawful death claims on behalf of a loved one, they must also indicate that the employee has been exposed to dust for at least five years. Workers with lung cancer are also subject to the five-year provision and must additionally indicate that their cancer was diagnosed at least 10 years after the first contact with dust.

In court documents, Jacobs said the vast majority of the plaintiffs either did not file a doctor’s report, filed inadequate reports, or did not comply with time limits. For example, one worker died of lung cancer in 2015, less than seven years after the spill, so, according to Jacobs, he could not be allowed to sue.

Workers’ lawyers argue that the Silicon Act was never intended for cases like theirs. The law specifically applies to silica, which is only one component of coal ash. Components that they believe have injured workers include arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury and radium, but not silica. The law also refers to claims for very specific injuries – silicosis and pulmonary fibrosis – which are not considered in this case.

In addition, workers’ lawyers say they are simply putting up the challenge late. The case has already passed the first part of a two-part trial in 2018, when a jury in Knoxville, Tennessee, found that Jacobs had violated his duty to care for workers. The jury said Jacobs’ actions could make workers sick. Whether or not these actions made them ill and therefore entitled to monetary compensation was left for the next court or courts.

Jacobs’ attorneys said the company did its best to manage the cleanup in a way that regulators said was safe. It has not been proven that Jacobs – or even coal ash – is to blame for any disease, and the EPA classifies coal ash as dangerous.

Following a trial in 2018, a federal judge on the case ordered mediation, alluding to workers ’urgent need for medical care. The mediation was unsuccessful, but a new trial date has not been set as Jacobs continues to hear litigation. The company has twice appealed to the U.S. District 6th District Court of Appeals to recognize that it is insured against litigation because it acted on behalf of the Federal Agency for Tennessee Valley Administration. The court ruled against Jacobs both times, most recently this month.

Doug Bledsoe did not live to see this small victory. Bledsoe was called to work in Kingston a few days after a six-story earth dam collapsed in 2008, releasing more than a billion gallons of coal ash. The spill was so massive that it knocked down nearby houses. According to the court, when the sludge slowly dried over the years of cleaning, it turned into fine dust that had to be constantly poured with water, but still filled the air, especially on windy days, according to the court.

Bledsoe rode there on a water carrier until 2014. In 2018, he was diagnosed with lung and brain cancer. He died two years later, leaving his wife Johnny Bledsoe, who is 38 years old. They started dating when she was 14 and Doug Bledsoe was her “whole world,” she said.

“Everything we did, we did together,” Johnny Bledsoe said. “We raised cattle together. We had a joint farm. All this has stopped. “

Last year, Johnny Bledsoe and Jenny Clark received the American flag flying over the U.S. Capitol to honor coal ash cleaning workers. Clark said it was the only official acknowledgment of the suffering they had endured.

Before his death Ansol Clark built a wooden cross, which he erected near the Kingston plant as a memorial to the workers. Jenny Clark said she plans to go there this weekend to change flowers as she does regularly.

“I will do this until I can climb the hill,” Clark said. “I’m not going to let that be forgotten.”

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