KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — While a Roane County grand jury couldn’t agree on state criminal charges in the handling of the clean-up at the Kingston fossil plant spill site, grand jurors say the evidence is something federal investigators should look into.
More than 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash was released into the Emory and Clinch Rivers in December 2008 when a dike holding back the substance collapsed. Coal ash covered over 300 acres of land in the surrounding area, including homes and farmland.
Tennessee Valley Authority brought in Jacobs Engineering for the clean-up, a process that took more than five years.
Workers at the site complained they weren’t given enough protection from the ash. The workers sued to claim they suffered health problems and that many workers had died due to exposure to toxins.
The grand jury met for nine hours on Monday to listen to evidence from investigators. Attorney General Russell Johnson said it was a split result with just two of 12 jurors voting in favor of charging four ‘mid-level’ supervisors for TVA, Jacobs Engineering and Shaw Group with conspiracy to commit second-degree murder.
“We, the grand jury, consider the evidence better suited for federal authorities to investigate and prosecute. We were unable to come to a unanimous decision on any state criminal charge although we found much of the evidence about TVA & Jacobs’ handling of the cleanup, relative to worker safety, very concerning.”Roane County grand jury statement on Kingston coal ash spill
Johnson noted that based on the actions of the grand jury, he believed the jurors appeared reluctant to punish the four mid-level supervisors for actions that their employers may be held culpable for.
“Based upon the written statement released by the Roane County Grand Jury, it would appear to me that they were reluctant to hold four site supervisors criminally responsible for something that the grand jurors evidently perceived to possibly be ‘sins’ of the employers given that they stated concerns ‘about TVA & Jacobs – handling of the cleanup, relative to worker safety,” Johnson said.
In 2018, a federal civil lawsuit filed on behalf of cleanup workers found that Jacobs Engineering breached a duty to inform and protect workers from the dangers of coal ash on the job site. Last year, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation determined that there were no prosecutable violations of state environmental law and allegations of reckless homicide could not be determined without autopsies to prove causation.
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