A federal jury last week ruled that the company who hired workers to clean up a coal ash spill in Tennessee failed to protect them from the hazards involved. The ruling clears the way for workers affected by the highly toxic substance to seek damages from Jacobs Engineering, the company tasked with cleaning up a massive coal ash spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority's (TVA) Kingston Fossil Plant.

News sources say Jacobs Engineering failed to provide protective clothing to workers and to disclose the toxic exposures they would face on the job. Dozens of the 900 people who participated in the cleanup have died or developed serious illnesses.

Coal ash, which is produced primarily from the burning of coal in coal-fired power plants, contains contaminants like mercury, cadmium and arsenic. The EPA warns that without proper management, these contaminants can pollute waterways, ground water, drinking water, and the air.

The TVA spill occurred when a dike failed and took years to clean up.

Knoxville News Sentinel reporter Jamie Satterfield found that Jacobs and the TVA pressured the EPA to back down from demands that workers be supplied with Tyvek suits and respiratory protection and that workers who demanded PPE were fired.

Satterfield said that pressure applied by lobbyists for the Coal Ash Association and power companies succeeded in quashing an Obama administration effort to have the EPA classified as coal ash.

Click here to read Satterfield’s reporting.