UPDATE: Wacker Chemie fined $25,000 after September explosion - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

UPDATE: Wacker Chemie fined $25,000 after September explosion

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Wacker Chemie's Charleston, TN plant. WRCBtv.com photo Wacker Chemie's Charleston, TN plant. WRCBtv.com photo
CHARLESTON (WRCB) -

UPDATE: Twenty five thousand dollars is how much a Bradley County chemical plant has to pay in fines after an explosion last fall.

We now know that explosion was caused by a mechanical failure. The state cited Wacker Chemie for seven violations from the explosion in September.

The violations range from failing to properly train employees to not following good engineering practices. The report by the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration said that a broken cylinder fractured led to the release of hydrogen that caught fire.

It's been exactly six months since an explosion at Wacker shut down the interstate and caused several schools to lock down. The plant is still not operational, but a Wacker spokesperson said they are working to reopen soon.

Some Bradley County residents are nervous for that day to come.

“I am wanting it to stay in Bradley County because we need the revenue and stuff. But we also need the safety,” said resident Mark Golden.

Before operations can resume, Wacker will replace a new compressor design in its hydrogen recovery building with an original design.

In a statement to Channel 3, a spokesperson said, “We are confident that a return to the original compressor design together with the adoption of other preventative measures will ensure a safe restart of our Charleston plant."

The explosion last fall wasn't the first incident at the Charleston site. A week before five employees were sent to the hospital for chemical exposure. TOSHA fined Wacker $20,000 for violations from that day as well.

Residents who live near the plant say they still haven't heard from Wacker about an improved safety plan. They hope plant officials will reach out before the plant re-opens.

“We have not heard of any safety plans what so ever. I think as a citizen here, and I am speaking for all the citizens, we need one of those. We need a safety plan. We don't need no dangerous chemicals or anything floating around,” said Golden.

Wacker has not said if it plans to meet with residents or discuss safety plans with nearby neighborhoods.

TOSHA only investigates incidents regarding employee safety. Wacker could still face additional fines and citations from the state for any environmental impacts.


PREVIOUS STORY:  TOSHA released its findings Wednesday on the cause of the September 7, 2017, explosion at Wacker. 

The explosion resulted in a temporary shutdown of the Wacker plant for repairs.

TOSHA cited Wacker seven times, resulting in a $25,400 fine. 

A Wacker spokesperson said the incident happened inside the Hydrogen Recovery building. TOSHA said a piston fractured, which released Hydrogen that ignited.

"The release of both the September 7, 2017, report and the August 30, 2017, report, released last week, brings closure to the TOSHA investigations," a Wacker spokesperson said. "We remain on the path to restart in the near future."

Mary Beth Hudson, Vice President Polysilicon, Site Manager-Charleston released the following statement: 

 “We support TOSHA’s commitment to worker safety and WACKER continuously strives to identify improvements in plant safety.”  
 
We have been working with an outside independent expert over the last several months to analyze the origin and cause of the September 7th incident as we prepare for the restart of facility operations. The independent team brought decades of global experience and has assisted in identifying key information related to the incident.
 
We have learned that the September 7 incident resulted from a mechanical failure with equipment in our hydrogen recovery building. A new piston, part of an upgraded compressor design purchased last year, fractured, resulting in the release of hydrogen that ignited. To restart the plant, we will be returning to our original compressor design that has operated safely for decades at WACKER sites and many other global companies. We are confident that a return to the original compressor design together with the adoption of other preventative measures will ensure a safe restart of our Charleston plant.
 
WACKER has discussed both the mechanical compressor failure and the new steps taken to address this type of problem going forward as part of our cooperation with TOSHA during their reviews.
 
At WACKER, we are continually working to ensure the safety of our site, our team members, our community, and our environment. We are committed to providing safe and secure jobs in our community.”  


PREVIOUS STORY: New details tonight in the Wacker explosion that injured workers last year

The Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued two citations against Wacker for nine serious violations and fined the Charleston facility more than $31,000 dollars. 

READ MORE | TOSHA investigated Wacker three times in past two years

That explosion injured several employees and forced nearby residents to shelter in place. 

According to a spokesperson for the department of labor, TOSHA investigators are still completing their investigation into a chemical release that happened before the explosion.

The explosion and resulting community concern prompted the company to issue a full-page apology to residents.

READ MORE | Wacker apologizes to community in full page ad, but residents still wary

Wacker issued a news release Wednesday evening, which stated in part:

The citations issued by TOSHA relate primarily to protective clothing, procedures, and hazard analysis pertaining to the maintenance activities on certain process equipment. Wacker has been hard at work in recent months to continuously improve its safety program. Indeed, many of the concerns have already been or are in the process of being addressed. 

Wacker will carefully and diligently study and respond to the concerns raised by TOSHA.

Wacker takes seriously its responsibility for the safety of its team members and community. That responsibility will continue to guide Wacker as it prepares to move forward.

Wacker thanks TOSHA for its professionalism and commitment to employee health and safety. Wacker shares TOSHA’s concern for workers and fully cooperated during the investigation to look for further improvements to plant safety. 

Mary Beth Hudson, Vice President of Polysilicon, Site Manager - Charleston explained: “Safety is our number one value and priority. We are constantly working to ensure the safety of our site, our team members, our community, and our environment as we move toward restarting production at the site. We are committed to providing safe and secure jobs in our community.”

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