Wacker officials address concerns

By BRIAN GRAVES Staff Writer
Posted 9/23/17

It is a matter of communication and staying involved in the community.

That was the consensus between Wacker officials and several county officials as they met in Charleston to discuss the …

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Wacker officials address concerns


It is a matter of communication and staying involved in the community.

That was the consensus between Wacker officials and several county officials as they met in Charleston to discuss the recent incidents at the Bradley County plant.

After a brief overview of the plant, its processes and products, local officials were invited to participate in a roundtable question and answer session with Wacker North American President David Wilhoit and Wacker Vice President and Site Manager Mary Beth Hudson.

Both sides acknowledged it is difficult to provide answers that currently do not exist.

For starters, Hudson addressed some of the misinformation which has been circulating concerning the past few weeks.

Hudson said there were actually only two who were transported from the site on Sept 7 — one with injuries and a second with both injuries and a medical situation.

She also said the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation are not working at the site.

Hudson said TDEC had requested information concerning the chemicals involved, but because the levels were below the reportable benchmark there has been no further action by the state agency.

As to the repairs at Wacker, Hudson said “We need all of our employees” and the company would remain an active participant within the community even with the plant not in production mode.

“Our employees and community need us as well and this is the partnership that we have,” she said.

Hudson also noted Wacker has been working in the community — especially with its BEST partnership with Bradley Central High School.

“We have manufacturing week coming up in October and some of our engineers are working with the school where they are building a solar car,” she said. “We are continuing with other activities we have with Habitat for Humanity, the Heritage Center and other initiatives.”

Hudson said one of the things she holds important is the STEM lab at Charleston Elementary.

“It’s important to have that exposure that some of our technical engineers can give them so those students and get interested in science and technology,” she said.

“We are continuing to do these things because we need our employees now and we will need them when we restart operations and we want to continue to grow and we plan to continue to grow,” Hudson said.

1st District Commissioner Terry Caywood said he had a constituent who lives around a mile from the plant say they had some plants that were developing brown spots.

“She was convinced that was caused by what happened here,” Caywood said.

Hudson said there have been various claims made.

“We have a formal process where those are being collected and investigated,” Hudson said.

She added when the water was sprayed on the explosion site, it ran into the plant’s internal sewer system and then to a treatment facility.

“All of our drainage here on site goes into our wastewater treatment system,” Hudson said.

1st District Commissioner Mike Hughes asked if the air monitoring system could be expanded past the boundaries of the plant.

“We do have the ability to look outside of the property with our portable monitors. This equipment has very high accuracy and requires some of our very skilled lab technicians to operate,” Hudson said.

“But, I think that is something we could take to next week’s community advisory council (made up of area manufacturers) because I think that’s a question that’s broader than Wacker and better answered by the collective industries.”

She explained the portable monitor can be sent to a specific location based on wind direction.

“We want to be able to target a particular area,” Hudson said. “This is another extra layer on top of what we already have. If we are not detecting anything here on site, then you are not going to detect anything away from the site.”

Commission Chairman Louie Alford said one of the biggest complaints is how information is disseminated to the community.

“I think that’s an area that’s really critical right now,” Alford said.

“When the alarm goes off, that’s an alarm for the employees here on site,” Hudson explained.

“If there is something that could potentially impact the community, even as a precaution, our dispatch immediately calls Bradley County Emergency Management Agency,” she said. “They then contact EMS, who contacts any other authorities and make decisions from a community standpoint.”

School Board member Vicki Beatty said she remembered years ago when “people would knock on doors in relationship to Olin.”

“That is another issue for the CAC,” Hudson said. “I know we have the Nexle system, but you have to register with that system to get those alerts.”

Alford said the county “needs to do a lot more to encourage people to get on that.”

2nd District Commissioner Thomas Crye said most of the communications problems “lie outside of Wacker.”

“One voice should be speaking for the county government, not four or five,” Crye said. “I think they are going to get that straightened out.”

Crye also said Wacker has some employees “who need to stay the heck off social media.”

“When you have someone on social media who allegedly works for Wacker, and they’re putting this garbage out. It makes it tough,” he said.

“I like to say we prepare for the worst and then back off,” said Director of Schools Dr. Linda Cash. “Maybe as we move on, that needs to be the message.”

“You always go to the highest level of precaution you can take,” Hudson said. “Then as you have more information, you can back off.”

Hudson also said there are plans currently being worked out for meetings where the public will be able to interact with Wacker in a face-to-face format.


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