In December of 2008, a massive coal ash spill dumped more than 5 million cubic tons of sludge into the Emory River outside of Knoxville, Tennessee. Considered the largest coal ash spill in history, it closed rivers and roads and seeped into neighborhoods, filling the area with toxic chemicals. Coal ash contains an assortment of toxic chemicals and metal, many of which are carcinogenic and increase cancer risk in those living near coal ash landfills.
Clean up workers were dispatched to the site. They allege that they were offered minimal training, denied uniforms and access to respirators or masks, and deprived of adequate cleanup facilities. Now, seventeen of these workers are dead and many more are dying. Three surviving workers have filed suit against the labor organization that provided workers to the cleanup effort, alleging that the managers with the company endangered the employee’s lives. They maintain that the company failed to warn them of the dangers of coal ash, and threatened layoffs if they filed workers’ compensation claims for illnesses they developed while on the job. The company denies the allegations, and trial is expected to begin in 2018.