Wacker to close for possibly "several months" as explosion investigation continues

Image: NewsChannel 9 SkyCam

In a statement released online on Wednesday, Wacker says it will close its Charleston facility for possibly "several months" as it continues to investigate what caused the explosion that forced a shelter-in-place order for area residents and injured more than a dozen people.

As of last weekend, Wacker told us that the leak the explosion caused was 70 percent contained. Structural engineers worked to stabilize the building.

Bradley County EMA Director Troy Spence tells us the explosion two weeks ago damaged the pipes and a small amount of chemicals continued to leak in what's called a burp reaction.That's when moisture enters the open pipes, causing a small amount of chemicals to come from it. Spence says right now, the public isn't in any danger.

Wacker's release on Wednesday says "restarting will take several months," and that it will use workers to "help with repair efforts and other site activities as needed." Wacker says it will also use the downtime to provide employees with advanced training courses.

Read Wacker's online statement below:

Root-Cause Investigation at WACKER’s Charleston Plant Underway

Munich / Charleston, Sep 20, 2017

"After the incident at WACKER’s US production site in Charleston, Tennessee, already reported on, root-cause investigation work is now well underway. The explosion on September 7 was caused by a technical defect prompting a leak of hydrogen which subsequently caught fire, thereby severely damaging a small, but important facility of the production plant. WACKER has engaged an independent expert team to determine the root cause of the incident and is cooperating with governmental authorities to ensure a safe resumption of operations. Financial effects on WACKER stemming from this incident are expected to be only minor due to insurance coverage for damages and loss of production.

As already reported, an equipment malfunction led to a hydrogen explosion at the polysilicon production plant in Charleston, Tennessee, on September 7. As a result, damaged piping leaked chlorosilane, a chemical that creates hydrogen chloride as it comes into contact with moisture in the air. Assisted by external emergency responders, the site’s fire fighters immediately contained the chemical with water. During the incident, two site employees were evaluated at the local hospital and were released the same day. Thanks to the immediate action of all response teams involved, there was no risk to the community.

“While we are working diligently towards resuming production, the safety of our employees and the community is our top priority,” said Tobias Brandis, Global President WACKER POLYSILICON. “Therefore, production will not start until a thorough inspection is completed and it is certain that the facility is safe.” From today’s perspective, restarting will take several months, Brandis said. “During the production downtime, we will use personnel to support repair efforts and other site activities as needed. We also will use this downtime to provide our employees with advanced training courses.”

WACKER is in close contact with its customers and will keep them informed on polysilicon availability."

Wacker's explanations about what happened, spelled out in some detail in a full-page ad in Chattanooga and Cleveland newspapers last week, still was not enough for many Charleston residents, some of whom protested outside the plant Friday morning. Many viewers have reached out to NewsChannel 9 to say they don't feel safe since the September 7th incident, and have called for alarms and early warning systems, as well as better communications in general with the nearby public from Wacker.

This is a developing story. Depend on us to bring you updates as we get them.

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