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Tennessee grand jury won’t indict in coal ash spill cleanup

November 18, 2021 GMT

KINGSTON, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee grand jury this week declined to indict four men who helped supervise the cleanup of a massive 2008 coal ash spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant.

A former investigative reporter for the Knoxville News Sentinel, Jamie Satterfield, had asked the grand jury to indict the men on charges of conspiracy to commit murder. Satterfield has extensively covered the plight of the cleanup workers who say they were sickened from long exposure to the ash without respiratory or skin protection.

Tennessee law allows private citizens to bring information before a grand jury for potential indictment.

More than 200 of the former workers have sued TVA contractor Jacobs Engineering in four separate lawsuits, claiming the coal ash caused a slew of illnesses, including cancers of the lung, brain, blood and skin. As many as 54 workers have died of illnesses they attribute to the cleanup work.

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In a Facebook post, District Attorney General Russell Johnson said the grand jury voted 10-2 against the charges on Monday. The grand jury went on to note that they “found much of the evidence about TVA & Jacobs’ handling of the cleanup, relative to worker safety, very concerning” but considered the case better suited to a federal investigation.

Johnson’s office and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation also probed allegations related to the cleanup. They concluded that there were no prosecutable violations of environmental laws, according to the Facebook post. They also found that reckless homicide charges against supervisors were both barred by the statute of limitations and complicated by the lack of autopsies proving that coal ash exposure caused worker deaths.

Johnson’s post opined that the grand jury was reluctant to hold site supervisors criminally responsible “for something that the grand jurors evidently perceived to possibly be ‘sins’ of the employers.” He also stated that, “This is really a matter that the US Attorney and the federal Office of Inspector General are better equipped to handle.”