Sohn: Do Wacker's $210 million in tax-breaks have clawbacks?

Sohn: Do Wacker's $210 million in tax-breaks have clawbacks?

September 22nd, 2017 by Pam Sohn in Opinion Times

Staff File Photo by Doug Strickland A plume billows from the Wacker polysilicon chemical plant after an explosion released a hydrogen chemical gas on Sept. 7., 2017, in Charleston, Tenn. The explosion and leaks are under investigation and officials now say the plant will be closed for "several months."

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Related Article

Wacker closing Charleston, Tenn., plant, possibly for 'several months'

Read more

Wacker Polysilicon announced Tuesday it is closing its Charleston, Tenn., plant, possibly for "several months," as the investigation continues into the cause of a Sept. 7 explosion that sent a plume of hydrochloric acid into the air and continues to leak small-dose "burps" of the estimated 6 tons of the chemical chlorosilane there.

Shawn Fairbanks, director of Bradley County Fire & Rescue, and Troy Spence, Bradley County Emergency Management Agency Director, told Times Free Press reporter Mark Pace last Friday that there was no way to safely remove the chemicals and they now leak as they are exposed to moisture in the damaged pipes.

"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."

In announcing the closure Wednesday, Wacker officials said an equipment malfunction led to a hydrogen explosion that damaged piping. The piping leaked the chlorosilane, a chemical that creates hydrogen chloride as it comes into contact with moisture in the air.

Wacker officials also said — as they have several times — "there was no risk to the community."

Related Article

Hydrochloric acid still being released at Wacker chemical plant

Read more

Related Article

Wacker personnel still unsure what caused explosion in Charleston, Tenn.

Read more

Roads in the area and Interstate 75 were closed for hours. Residents and school children were forced to shelter in place and told to shut off their heat and air systems. A plant worker, a firefighter, four deputies and seven local residents were treated at hospitals after the explosion — which Wacker termed "an incident."

That sounded then (and still sounds) like quite a bit of risk.

It was the second "incident" in eight days at the facility — five workers suffered chemical burns on Aug. 30 in a different area of the plant. And just days after the explosion there was a third "incident," one in which there was again a leak large enough to trigger a shelter-in-place warning at the plant.

Now we learn that there is a continuing problem. And we also learn that an undisclosed number of Wacker workers are apparently being shuffled between repairs and "advanced training" possibly for "several months."

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are investigating the incidents.

Hydrochloric acid is a colorless to slightly yellow, corrosive, nonflammable gas that is heavier than air and has a strong irritating odor. Its corrosive vapors, and inhalation of the fumes, can cause coughing, choking, inflammation of the nose, throat and upper respiratory tract, and in severe cases, pulmonary edema, circulatory system failure and death, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. ATSDR also says skin contact with the gas can cause redness, pain and severe skin burns and eye damage. EPA rates and regulates the gas as a toxic substance.

The $2.5 billion plant manufactures chemicals for solar panels, and when the German company began looking at the Charleston, Tenn., site, it received one of the top five richest government incentive packages offered in Tennessee — $210.5 million in 2009 for 500 jobs at the polycrystalline silicon plant. That's $421,000 per job.

Are there claw-back clauses in those incentives? If not, why not?

This is a textbook case for why they might be needed.

We paid for the emergency responders that kept this from being worse.

We're paying for the state's TDEC investigation, and we're paying for the federal government's OSHA investigation.

More pointedly, we paid for those jobs that may well now be in limbo.

Related Article

Cooper: Wacker should learn from VW

Read more

Related Article

Sohn: Wacker apology is a start, but we await honesty

Read more
Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315