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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.
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More than a week after an explosion at Wacker, hydrochloric acid is still being released into the air as an estimated six tons of chemicals remain in an unsecured site within the polysilicon plant, according to Bradley County officials.

A fire and explosion on Sept. 7 at the Charleston, Tenn., plant released a cloud of the chemical into the air and left residents to deal with the aftermath. The explosion damaged part of the plant and left some equipment beyond repair, Wacker- Charleston site manager Mary Beth Hudson said. The area where the explosion occurred remained unsafe Friday afternoon, and there was no way to remove the chemicals safely, said Shawn Fairbanks, director of Bradley County Fire & Rescue.

"It's not safe, but [Wacker] can't get in there to get it out," Fairbanks said. "Part of the problem is they can't enter the building because it is not structurally sound."

The chemicals are being released in what Wacker is calling "burps," Fairbanks said. Bradley County Emergency Management Agency Director Troy Spence confirmed the information. Spence said small doses of the estimated 6 tons of chemicals in the room escape as moisture enters the open pipes.

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"As we proceed with the investigation with our independent experts, part of the process involves draining chlorosilanes that are currently securely stored in the building," reads a statement by Hudson. "Until our due diligence is complete, it is premature to speculate about the amount we will be removing. We are in the process of bracing the damaged area to allow us to perform this task. We are doing this work under the oversight of Wacker's Fire Department in a safe and controlled manner."

Spence and Fairbanks were at the plant when one of the burps occurred Friday, but they both said it was small and doesn't pose a risk to the public.

The burp caused "our eyes to water and choked us up a little," Fairbanks said. Spence said it was similar to coming into contact with chlorine tablets.

A team of engineers is scheduled to go to the site today, Fairbanks said, and will tell Wacker how to stabilize the building. The company has contractors ready to do the work once that's done.

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

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