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Roane Co. remembers coal ash spill

Angie Shelton's husband worked to clean up the ash spill. He was one of the first workers to die from cancer that maybe linked to their work.

Saturday was a day of remembrance in Roane County.

County Executive Ron Woody declared that at a gathering of more than 100 people who gathered to remember clean up workers who have died since TVA’s massive ash spill at its Kingston Fossil Plant on Dec. 22, 2008.

For Angie Shelton, it doesn’t take a declaration or plaque to remember what happened a decade ago.

Her husband, Mike Shelton, worked for Jacobs Engineering, which TVA hired to clean up the spill. After a few months on the job, Angie says he began to have breathing problems.

“If those guys were allowed to wear some kind of protective mask, glove, suits or some kind of something so they didn’t have to inhale it day in and day out,” Shelton said. “These guys might not have been sick.”

In 2013, a lawsuit filed in federal court claimed that workers who cleaned up the ash spill were sick because of their work.

Credit: Grant Robinson

In 2015, doctors diagnosed Shelton with a lung cancer. He died in August of that year.

The anniversary of the spill is not a day that his widow looked forward to.

RELATED: Historic Disaster: 10 years after the ash spill

“It was like going back through it again. I don’t want to lose him over and over and over,” Shelton said. “And that’s what I feel like I’m doing, is losing him over and over and over and over again.”

Credit: Grant Robinson

In November, a jury found that Jacobs Engineering broke its contract with TVA, failed to protect the workers and that it could be held responsible for workers’ illnesses. 

Now, an attorney will try to prove that coal ash exposure directly caused their illnesses.

Some workers, regardless of what the courts find, are living with a death sentence.

“It’s like a waiting game. A waiting game of who’s going to be next,” Shelton said. “They’re waiting on their life or their loved one’s to end. And that is so horrible.”

Mike Shelton was one of the first workers to die from an illness that could be linked to ash exposure. More than two dozen people workers are now dead from cancers their families say basic protective gear might have prevented.

“When I talk to other wives, I tell them to make memories. Make all kinds of memories,” Shelton said. “Good memories, laughing memories, because once it’s gone, you can’t get it back.”

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