Bradley County commissioners pleased with Wacker response

Bradley County commissioners pleased with Wacker response

September 24th, 2017 by Mark Pace in Local Regional News

Clouds billow from the Wacker polysilicon chemical plant after an explosion released a hydrogen chemical gas on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, in Charleston, Tenn. The explosion closed the plant, but a statement from Wacker says air quality was unaffected.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

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Local leaders met privately with Wacker officials late last week and generally are pleased with the chemical company's response to the explosion that occurred Sept. 7, according to three Bradley County commissioners.

Bradley County Districts 1 and 2 commissioners were among a group that toured the facility to get answers about the explosion and an Aug. 30 chemical incident at the plant. School officials and Wacker leaders were also present.

"I was very impressed with what they told us," commission Chairman Louie Alford said. "They were very open, very transparent and any question we asked, they tried to give us a legitimate answer."

Wacker leaders answered questions and showed county officials the plant, demonstrating what the chemical company does and describing safety procedures that were in place.

Commissioners Terry Caywood, Thomas Crye and Alford were all pleased but said no new information came from the meeting.

"I didn't hear anything new," Caywood said, explaining that much of the information is technical. "I think they've told the public as much as the public can understand."

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Local citizens are still demanding answers, and no public forum has yet been set up. However, informing the public was discussed on the tour and "strongly emphasized" by commissioners, Caywood said.

Wacker officials discussed the possibility and are open to it, all three commissioners said, but nothing was finalized during the tour. Wacker would like to set up a meeting between the community and all of the chemical companies in the Charleston area, Caywood said.

The commissioners said they will continue to demand answers as they become available.

"I'm more encouraged than I was," Caywood said. "I think they're working to answer any questions, and they need to if they're going to operate in our community. We as a commission won't let that go."

The company doesn't know more than what it has shared with the public, Wacker-Charleston Site Manager Mary Beth Hudson has repeatedly said.

Investigators still don't know what caused the explosion, the commissioners and Wacker officials said.

During the meeting, Wacker officials explained the plant's alarm system, a system that was triggered during the explosion and once more five days later, causing panic.

"The alarm system they have in place sounds like a very sophisticated one, but until the community is aware of how that operates, it only helps Wacker employees," Caywood said. "The community doesn't know anything about it. That needs to be improved."

Crye came to the meeting with questions about whether the chemicals reached the general public but left pleased that they did not.

"I was pleasently surprised and pleased with how forthcoming they were and how transparent they are trying to be," he said. "I'm sure there are improvements to be made, but I found them to be very forthcoming."

Contact staff writer Mark Pace at mpace@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @themarkpace and on Facebook at Chat tanoogaOutdoorsTFP.

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