KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Local organizations will host a solidarity vigil with the workers of the 2008 Kingston Coal Ash spill as the next court proceedings in the ongoing lawsuit approaches on Wednesday, June 1. The vigil is Tuesday, May 31, at the Krutch Park in downtown Knoxville.

The vigil is one of the first few events honoring the workers whose health was affected by cleaning the ash spill. Sunrise Knoxville, SOCM, Knoxville DSA, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Jobs with Justice East Tennessee, Interfaith Worker Justice, Appalachian Voices, the Sierra Club Harvey Broome Group and the Knoxville Oak Ridge Central Labor Council are participating in the event.

The local organizations are standing in solidarity with the coal ash spill workers as they prepare for the next court proceedings in their lawsuit against Jacobs Engineering Group. The workers claim that the company failed to inform them of the health risks when cleaning the ash spill and denied personal protective equipment.

Over 900 workers cleaned more than 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash that was released into the Emory and Clinch Rivers. The lawsuit claims hundreds of workers have developed illnesses as a result, including over 200 workers with lung disease and cancers. Families report that nearly 60 have died since working to clean-up the toxic coal ash spill.

Ron-Bledsoe-and-Tommy-Johnson-at-Capitol
Ron Bledsoe, left, and Tommy Johnson, right, at Capitol. (Photo by Julie Bledsoe)

“I imagine workers all over the country, so thrilled to have a job, having no idea how toxic coal ash is,” said Julie Bledsoe, whose husband worked to clean up the Kington coal ash spill and was later diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. “I can see them; good people trying to make a living and being exposed to coal ash and having their lives cut short. I can see people so happy to have a job and not knowing they are being harmed.”

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Jacobs’ request for immunity from paying former plant workers or the families of workers who’ve died.

The Tennessee Supreme Court will hear the next phase of a case between Jacobs and the workers, including their families. Jacobs has asked the court to classify coal ash as silica and mixed dust and for the workers to prove injuries that do not reflect the type of injuries that result from coal fly ash exposure.

The lawsuit remains ongoing, updates from the proceedings will come as more information unfolds.