Tennessee Coal Ash Case Brings National Attention to Silica Exposure

The workers tasked with cleaning up a coal ash pond spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant are now taking their employer to court – the Tennessee Supreme Court to be exact.

The workers set out to clean up the worst coal ash pond spill in U.S. history in 2008. Now, a lawsuit claims that multiple members of those cleanup crews became sick or died following their work for Jacobs Engineering Group, Inc.

According to ABC News, the case was brought to the court after the engineering group began challenging the workers’ claims stating that their legal challenges are limited under the Tennessee Silica Claims Priorities Act.

The workers allege the root of these health impacts was the silica in the coal ash. When coal is ground up finely and burned it creates fly ash, which is made up mostly of silica. Coal ash also contains other dangerous materials such as arsenic, chromium, lead and mercury.

CBS News reported that since the workers filed the lawsuit against the engineering firm in 2013, multiple employees or former employees have died from serious health complications.

They’ve had difficulties getting compensation for the cleanup work due to a lack of confirmation that the assorted cancers and health issues workers developed were linked directly to silica exposure. The silica act also includes timeframe requirements that make it difficult for some workers to qualify for claims.

Dangers Associated With Silica Exposure

People typically experience serious lung damage in instances of either intense or consistent exposure to crystalline silica dust. The CDC says it usually takes around 10 years of exposure, but higher levels can shorten that timeline.

According to the CDC, this dangerous dust can become trapped in your lung tissue and cause it to swell and scar. This makes it harder to take in oxygen and eventually you can develop Silicosis, which in some cases is deadly.

People suffering from silicosis commonly suffer from symptoms such as cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and chest pain. Exposure can also eventually lead to other serious ailments such as lung cancer, pulmonary disease, kidney disease and autoimmune disease.

Despite this, the EPA classifies coal ash as non-hazardous. According to OSHA, there are acceptable levels of silica exposure but there are still exposure limits and times when respiratory protection must be provided by employers.

Coal contains quartz – which contains silica. This puts workers who are in frequent contact with forms of coal ash at risk of dangerous silica exposure.

However, it isn’t just coal burning and ash handling that poses a danger. Workers in construction, mining, oil and gas, masonry, foundries and manufacturing are all at risk of being exposed to silica.

Getting Ahead of Potential Silica Exposures

Many business owners may be unaware of the hazards workers are facing, or perhaps are unsure how much silica is circulating the workplace air. EHS offers respirable crystalline silica testing services to help companies identify this hazard in the workplace. From there you are able to start mitigation to protect your workers from serious illness.

EHS Laboratories holds an accreditation through AIHA Laboratory Accreditation Program, LLC for the analysis of respirable crystalline silica by NIOSH 7602.

If your company’s workers are at risk of silica exposure, don’t wait until it’s too late. Exposures could result in health problems down the line and could bring lawsuits against companies responsible for exposing workers to unsafe silica levels.

EHS offers clients rentable pump kits to test for silica. Each kit includes:

  • Gil-Air Pump with Charger
  • Tubing and Cassette Holder Clip
  • 37mm, 5.0µm, PVC Cassette(s)
  • 2.5 Lpm, Aluminum Cyclone
  • Chain of Custody Form(s)
  • Return Shipping Label(s)

Contact us today to request a pump kit and take the next step towards a safer and healthier workplace.