POINT PLEASANT – Amerian Electric Power has been named as a defendant in a host of lawsuits claiming exposure to dangerous chemicals in coal waste.
The 39 complaints were filed Aug. 8 in Mason Circuit Court against American Electric Power Co. Inc., American Electric Power Service Corporation, Ohio Power Company and Doug Workman by attorneys from Wheeling-based and Huntington law firm Duffield, Lovejoy, Stemple & Boggs.
The plaintiffs claim they were exposed to dangerous chemicals in coal waste – fly ash, flue gas desulfurization material, bottom ash and boiler slag – which has caused numerous illnesses and several deaths.
The plaintiffs are divided into four categories – 39 working direct claim plaintiffs, 11 non-working direct claim plaintiffs, nine loss of spousal consortium plaintiffs and 18 loss of parental consortium plaintiffs. Of the 50 direct claim plaintiffs, six are deceased.
The complaints focus on AEP's Gavin Landfill site in North Cheshire, Ohio, which is just across the Ohio River from Mason County. The Gavin Landfill – adjacent to AEP’s Gavin Power plant – is used primarily for collecting, shoveling, hauling, dumping, spreading and transporting the 2.6 million cubic yards of coal combustion waste byproducts produced at the plant each year, according to a press release from the law firms.
Three of the plaintiffs are residents of Mason County, one lives in Mingo County, five in Cabell County, one in Lawrence County, Ky., one in Boyd County, Ky., 11 in Lawrence County, Ohio, 27 in Gallia County, Ohio, two in Athens County, Ohio, 13 in Meigs County, Ohio, one each in Marion, Warren and Franklin counties in Ohio, one each in Hillsborough and Naples counties in Florida, one in Camden County, Ga., one in Fort Bend County, Texas, and one each in Guilford and Craven counties in North Carolina.
Most of the direct claim plaintiffs were employees of VFL Technology, LMS Contracting and/or Mid-State Inc. They worked in the General James M. Gavin Residual Waste Landfill where they say they were exposed to the chemicals.
In the complaint, the plaintiffs claim they asked Workman, a supervisor who lives in Mason County, about the dangers of working with the coal ash.
Workman responded "by sticking his finger into the coal waste and then placing his fly-ash covered finger into hos own mouth, then misrepresented to the working direct claim plaintiffs that coal waste was 'safe enough to eat.'"
The workers say the were told repeatedly that the coal waste was only a mixture of "water and lime," that it contained "such low levels of arsenic, it made no difference" to their health or safety and that the "lime neutralizes the arsenic."
"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," the attorneys state. "These toxins have been shown to be directly related to incidences of cancer, respiratory disease, heart disease, chromosomal abnormalities and birth defects, among others."
The complaints alleged the plaintiffs were assured on numerous occasions that such coal waste was safe and non-hazardous, and that there should be no increased concern about health effects.
"Repeatedly, individuals were not provided with protective equipment, such as overalls, gloves or respirators when working in and around coal waste," the attorneys state. "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."
This complaints say AEP and its supervisors had a duty to warn individuals working on its site of the hazards of coal waste and to provide them with reasonable measures to protect them from harm.
“Companies have a duty to operate in a safe manner,” Bordas & Bordas partner Jamie Bordas said. “When they fail to take the necessary precautions to provide not only education but protective gear and equipment when working around toxins at job sites, workers can be exposed and then their families are exposed when they take those contaminants home on their work clothes.
“The sad part of a case like this is that the outcome was preventable. When companies cut corners, individuals can get sick. People can die and families can suffer.”
Dave Duffield, the managing partner at Duffield, Lovejoy, Stemple & Boggs, said he was disturbed that other individuals and family members have been exposed to the chemicals in their own homes.
“It’s not just the workers we are representing,” Duffield said. “We are also representing the sons and daughters, the families of these individuals, who are now starting to deal with the consequences of this toxic contact themselves due to exposure in their own home by the dangerous waste being brought home on their relatives’ work clothes.
“People are dying, and more will die. Six of the 50 plaintiffs have died before we filed the lawsuit. Since the filing of the suit, two more have died in the last month. More will die. Many have skin lesions and numerous forms of cancer; others are 'living' knowing they are going to die and attending each other’s funerals as they watch their friends and coworkers be put to rest.”
Bordas said AEP misled people.
"That’s why we are passionate about this case," he said. "We want to fight for justice for these individuals and others who have simply been hoodwinked into believing that their working conditions were safe.”
More complaints could be filed, as the attorneys say the firms continue to get inquiries.
“There are likely still others who have been exposed and not yet diagnosed,” Duffield said.
The complaints accuse the defendants of contributing to the wrongful death of the six deceased plaintiffs. They also accuse the defendants of failing to warn and protect, negligence, battery, fraud, fraudulent concealment, misrepresentation of a toxic substance, negligent infliction of emotional distress and loss of spousal and parental consortium.
They seek compensatory damages, punitive damages and medical monitoring. They also seek court costs, fees, expenses, pre- and post-judgment interest and other relief.
The complaints are signed by Bordas attorneys Christopher J. Regan, Scott S. Blass and J. Zachary Zatezalo as well as Duffield attorneys L. David Duffield, Chad S. Lovejoy and A. David Nichols. All of the cases have been assigned to Circuit Judge David Nibert.
Mason Circuit Court case numbers 14-C-101 through 14-C-139