Wacker says no new safety issues at plant

By ALLEN MINCEY Staff Writer
Posted 9/13/17

According to authorities, there are no new safety issues at the Wacker Polysilicon North America plant near Charleston, even though alarms went off at the facility and employees were instructed …

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Wacker says no new safety issues at plant


According to authorities, there are no new safety issues at the Wacker Polysilicon North America plant near Charleston, even though alarms went off at the facility and employees were instructed to shelter in place for a short time Tuesday.

Cleveland/Bradley Emergency Management Director Troy Spence said Tuesday afternoon that his agency was contacted about alarms on site, “as they continue to evaluate and clean the facility.”

“There is not an additional issue on site and there is no danger to the public,” Spence said.

Still, there were several in the vicinity of the Charleston plant who complained that Wacker was not operating safely, and some had planned a community meeting to discuss the recent events at the facility.

Dan King, emergency preparedness manager at the plant, said in a statement sent to Spence and Bradley County Emergency Medical Services Director Shawn Fairbanks that a “slight elevation of residual chemicals stemming from the Sept. 7 incident at the Wacker site in Charleston” was detected.

An explosion at the plant on Sept. 7 led to a chemical leak of trichlorosilane, which was contained by the first response team at Wacker with the use of water from its fire engines. This led to a vapor cloud being formed which caused some in the community near Wacker to be concerned. Some residents said they experienced respiratory tract issues, as well as eye irritation, and noted they sought treatment at Tennova-Cleveland Healthcare.

He said according to emergency protocol and precautionary measures, the plant issued an onsite shelter in place, which was lifted Tuesday afternoon.

“There was no risk to the community or employees,” King stressed.

Plant manager Mary Beth Hudson said in an interview with the Cleveland Daily Banner Monday that there would still be a residual amount of the chemical in the pipe that burst in the explosion. She added that the building at the site of the leak was damaged, which led, along with damage to the pipe that contained the chemical, to ceasing operations of the trichlorosilane — though the plant itself remained operational in other areas.

Spence said he and Fairbanks drove to the site, and once there, saw there was no additional issue to the Sept. 7 incident. He did say that there was a faint odor of hydrochloride in the air.

“What we had were some employees coming out of the shelter-in-place, and contacting family about the situation,” the EMA director said. Spence added that some of the information passed along from Wacker employees indicated the alarm and shelter to be more serious than it was.

The Bradley County Schools issued a statement that “there is no threat to our schools or the community. Bradley County Safety Director and the Director of EMA have been in contact with representatives from Wacker.”

Walker Valley High School and Charleston Elementary School did bring in all students still on campus on Sept. 7 as a precaution, and the entire school system was closed on Friday, Sept. 8.

Spence also noted that should there be any change in the severity of the residual chemicals at the plant, the EMA would send a Nixle notice and give the public instructions to protect themselves.

“Nixle is free,” he added. “Just text CBCEMA to the phone number 888777.”

King stated that “safety is our top priority along with the care and well-being of our employees and our community. Our commitment to safety remains our primary focus.”


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