FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2014 file photo, Amy Adams, North Carolina campaign coordinator with Appalachian Voices, shows her hand covered with wet coal ash from the Dan River swirling in the background as state and federal environmental officials continued their investigations of a spill of coal ash into the river in Danville, Va. (AP/Gerry Broome)

Workers denied protective equipment because coal ash is "safe enough to eat"

After numerous illnesses and deaths, the employees are suing for damages


Joanna Rothkopf
September 9, 2014 8:23PM (UTC)

A lawsuit filed last month on behalf of 77 people claims that the plaintiffs were exposed to dangerous chemicals in coal ash, which led to several illnesses and deaths. The dispute is focused on American Electric Power's Gavin Landfill site in North Cheshire, Ohio, which is used for collecting and sipping of 2.6 million cubic yards of coal combustion waste byproducts from the Gavin Power Plant every year.

"Repeatedly, individuals were not provided with protective equipment, such as overalls, gloves or respirators when working in and around coal waste," the lawsuit says. "These working men and women, already exposed to the contaminants at the job site, then, in turn, carried the coal waste home to their families on their clothes and shoes, thus even exposing family members to the deadly toxins."

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In the complaint, the plaintiffs claim that they asked supervisor Doug Workman whether it was safe to work with coal ash. "By sticking his finger into the coal waste and then placing his fly-ash covered finger into his own mouth," the lawsuit reads, "[Workman] then misrepresented to the working direct claim plaintiffs that coal waste was 'safe enough to eat.'"

Climate Progress' Emily Atkin reports:

...workers at the Gavin landfill were allegedly told that coal ash was only a mixture of "water and lime," and that it contained "such low levels of arsenic, it made no difference." The workers were allegedly told that "lime neutralizes the arsenic," according to the [West Virginia] Record's report.

The lawsuit begs to differ. "Coal waste contains a multitude of contaminants that are dangerous to human health, and individuals can be exposed through contact on skin, inhalation and ingestion," it reads. "These toxins have been shown to be directly related to incidences of cancer, respiratory disease, heart disease, chromosomal abnormalities and birth defects, among others." In addition, the physician-led organization Physicians for Social Responsibility states that coal ash toxics "have the potential to injure all of the major organ systems, damage physical health and development, and even contribute to mortality."

According to the Sierra Club, 140 million tons of coal ash pollution are produced each year containing high levels of toxic heavy metals, yet are not federally controlled. As a result, the pollutants are stored in poorly regulated sites, including ponds and abandoned mines, leaving nearby towns vulnerable to toxic pollution. In fact, people living within a single mile of unlined coal ash ponds have a strongly elevated risk of cancer.


Joanna Rothkopf

MORE FROM Joanna RothkopfFOLLOW @joannarothkopf

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Coal Ash Landfill Lawsuit Toxic

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