UPDATE: Neighbors concerned following Wacker explosion, chemical - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

UPDATE: Neighbors concerned following Wacker explosion, chemical leak

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Photo by WRCB view William Lunny. Photo by WRCB view William Lunny.
Courtesy: Richie King, WRCB viewer Courtesy: Richie King, WRCB viewer
TDOT cam shows officers blocking off the intersection at the Charleston exit. TDOT cam shows officers blocking off the intersection at the Charleston exit.
BRADLEY COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -

UPDATE: Thousands of people were affected by the explosion Thursday and even Friday. 

Bradley County Schools closed as a safety precaution due to the chemicals being released. 

Talking to the people who live near Wacker, they said they are concerned about safety after Thursday's explosion. Many of them felt their homes shake and saw a cloud above the chemical plant, but received very little information.

Charleston is a farming community. An otherwise peaceful neighborhood was rattled Thursday.

"We live less than a mile away as the way a crow flies and we weren't told anything," Nikki Johnson-Corley, a neighbor said.

Nikki Johnson-Corley and her family live on a farm. Horses, chickens, and cattle are part of their lives.

Living less than a mile away from where the explosion and chemical leak happened is alarming. 

"What concerns me the most is our health and welfare and the animals' health and welfare," Johnson-Corley said.

Down the road, Rachel Shultz was helping her three children with homework when she heard a noise she says she'll never forget.

"Just a loud boom and it sounded like somebody slammed my garage door down. The windows shook. It's like what is this?," Shultz said.

Authorities told her to stay inside and shut her windows. Shultz called it a chaotic time when she saw the cloud of what we now know was hydrogen chloride. 

"You don't know what's in the air. They said it was contained and evidently it wasn't because just a little shift of wind started it back up," Shultz said.

Some neighbors are calling for better communication in case this happens again.

"Why are there not safety parameters in place that the community is well aware of to where if something like this happens again we have a place to go to?," Johnson-Corley said.

Bradley County's EMA director said he talks with Wacker's fire chief regularly about safety.

In this case, he tells me it was safer for neighbors to stay inside than to evacuate. Wacker and the EMA director are working to get everyone who lives near the chemical plant signed up for their alert system.

To sign up, text CBCEMA to 888777.


UPDATE: Channel 3 has learned that Wacker Chemie has temporarily shut down operations at the Charleston facility.

This move comes in the wake of Thursday's explosion and a "chemical release" of chlorosilane in which a nearby school was closed, traffic on Interstate 75 was re-routed and sent several people to local hospitals.

3 INVESTIGATES | TOSHA investigated Wacker three times in past two years


PREVIOUS STORY: The Bradley County Sheriff's Office says it's safe for residents around the Wacker Chemie plant to go outside.

All residents within a 1.5 mile radius south of the plant can go outside and turn on their air conditioners.

Sheriff's Office spokesman James Bradford says the advisory to stay indoors was issued as precaution when more steam was detected in the air.

A total of eight people were treated at Tennova Healthcare. Tennova spokeswoman Stephanie Austin says the patients were treated for minor irritations and two of the patients are still being evaluated. 

Bradford says one of those patients is a firefighter from Wacker's fire department, who suffered heat exhaustion.

As a safety precaution, Bradley County Schools will be closed on Friday.

Lauderdale Memorial Highway has reopened. 

The Bradley County Sheriff's Office and Wacker Chemie will be holding a joint press conference at 10:30 p.m.

Wacker released an updated statement Friday:

At approximately 4:00 p.m. an equipment failure caused a chemical release and an explosion occurred at the WACKER site in Charleston, Tennessee. The event damaged pipes, resulting in a localized chlorosilane leak. The site incident response team immediately deployed and secured the area. A visible water vapor cloud with trace amounts of hydrogen chloride was formed by the use of water to contain the chemicals. Steam piping was also damaged, releasing additional water vapor into the air.

According to emergency protocol and precautionary measures, WACKER, in conjunction with local authorities, immediately issued a shelter in place for the safety of the employees and surrounding community. The chemical release was contained to the site, which was confirmed by perimeter analytical measurements.

After initial response, one member of the WACKER team was transported to a local hospital for observation. Additionally, one WACKER firefighter was treated for symptoms of heat exhaustion and re- leased.

The release is fully contained. The shelter in place has been lifted for the site and the community. WACKER is conducting a thorough investigation into the conditions which led to the incident.

WACKER wishes to thank the Bradley County Emergency Management Agency, along with area law enforcement, fire companies and state agencies, for their immediate response and assistance. 


PREVIOUS UPDATE: Bradley County EMA officials are asking some residents around Wacker Chemie to go back indoors, due to a wind-shift that has happened since the chemical release at the plant earlier Thursday.

EMA officials are asking all residents within a 1.5 mile radius south of Wacker Chemie to stay inside and turn off their air conditioners until notified.

The portion of Lauderdale Memorial Highway between I-75 and Highway 11 is closed at this time.

Sheriff's Office spokesman James Bradford says a firefighter has been taken to a local hospital for heat exhaustion.

Bradford says seven people were treated at Tennova Healthcare.

Channel 3 has a crew at the scene working to learn more.

Stay with WRCBtv.com for updates to this story.


PREVIOUS UPDATE: Bradley County EMA officials say everyone can resume their normal activities and all roads are back open after a "leak" at Wacker Chemie Thursday.

A release from Wacker says a mechanical incident resulted in a hydrogen chemical release around 3:40 p.m.

Wacker's immediate emergency response to contain the release resulted in a visible steam cloud, according to the release.

The company says it is monitoring the air quality and measurements show it is not harmful.

Wacker confirms all employees and contracted employees are accounted for.

Sheriff's Office spokesman James Bradford says, earlier reports said there were no injuries at the facility; however, medical responders were able to find one patient at the facility needing medical assistance.

Bradford says it's unclear if the patient’s injuries are related to the incident or health-related.

Bradley County EMA officials say all roads, including I-75, have reopened except for Wacker Boulevard.

The plant is temporarily closed.

Bradford says more information will be released once it becomes available.

Stay with WRCBtv.com for updates to this story.


PREVIOUS STORY: Firefighters have been called to Wacker Chemie AG in Bradley County for a reported "leak" Thursday afternoon.

Bradley County EMA officials tell Channel 3, because the incident is a "level 3," Wacker's own fire department is responding to the leak. The Charleston Fire Department has also been called to the scene.

Bradley County Fire Chief Shawn Fairbanks tells Channel 3 his department is working with Wacker to "stop a leak." Bradley County Sheriff's Office spokesman James Bradford tells Channel 3, the smoke was caused by a low concentration of hydrochloric acid.

Eyewitnesses say they heard a loud sound and then saw heavy smoke coming from I-75 north.

Bradley County EMA officials are asking people to avoid the Charleston area. The Tennessee Highway Patrol has shut down I-75 from mile markers 26 - 37. A portion of Highway 11 in McMinn County is also closed.

EMA officials are also asking surrounding residents to stay inside and turn off their air conditioning units. A shelter has been set up at Walker Valley High School.

Bradley County school officials say students from Charleston Elementary School and Walker Valley High School that were still in route home on buses were taken to Ocoee Middle School, where parents can pick them up. 

Those students were on the following bus numbers: 1, 3, 22, and 43.  All students are safe. 

Any students or adults who were still at Charleston or Walker Valley are sheltering in place at this time.

Channel 3 has a crew on the scene.

Stay with WRCBtv.com for updates to this developing story.

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