KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Ahead of a significant lawsuit, people gathered in downtown Knoxville for a vigil to honor more than 900 workers who helped clean up one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history — the 2008 Kingston coal ash spill.
On Dec. 22, 2008, toxic coal ash was unleashed from the TVA plant in Roane County. It was after midnight with frigid temperatures dipping to 12 degrees when the wall collapsed on the massive ponds where TVA stored the leftover ash from burning decades of coal.
The breach unleashed an avalanche of more than a billion gallons of sludge into neighborhoods and the Emory River. The TVA worked with Jacobs Engineering to clean up the spill, but advocates said that the long-term effects of coal ash soon started revealing themselves.
More than 50 workers who helped clean up the spill have passed away, according to advocates. They organized Tuesday's vigil a day ahead of when the Tennessee Supreme Court will take a case about the disaster. It was called the "Remember Kingston Solidarity Vigil."
Several community groups participated in the event, advocating for the families of workers who passed away and supporting those facing health issues.
Over the years, Jacobs has made repeated attempts to have lawsuits thrown out. The Tennessee Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on Wednesday in Jacob's latest challenge to the workers' lawsuits. The company wants a judge to dismiss most of the plaintiffs for failing to follow a procedure outlined in the Tennessee Silica Claims Priorities Act.
The law requires anyone pursuing claims for exposure to silica or mixed dust to file a doctor's report concluding that the exposure is a "substantial contributing factor" to the patient's illness. For plaintiffs bringing wrongful death claims on behalf of a loved one, they must also show the worker was exposed to the dust for at least five years. Workers with lung cancer are subject to the five-year provision too and additionally must show that their cancer was diagnosed at least 10 years after their first exposure to the dust.