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One Worker Dead, Four Injured in TN Chemical Plant Incident

Firefighter removing another out a window via a ladder

Mike Pare

Chattanooga Times/Free Press, Tenn.


This story was updated at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, with more information.

A worker at Wacker’s Charleston, Tennessee, chemical plant, who was among five injured in an industrial incident on Friday, has died, according to the company.

Three other workers are being treated at local hospitals and one person has been treated and released for injuries related to the incident, said Lisa Mantooth, the plant’s communication and executive coordinator.

“Family members have been notified and our hearts go out to them,” she said in a statement about the death of the worker, who was not immediately identified.

Mantooth said the incident, which happened at about 10:15 a.m., continues to undergo investigation.

She said there was “no impact to the community or the environment. The area has been secured … .”

Mantooth said more details will be shared as the investigation continues.

The Wacker plant has experienced several incidents since it opened a little more than four years ago, but this is the first death.

In July, four contract workers at the plant were injured while performing maintenance in one of the process buildings at the polysilicon production facility.

That incident came less than three years after a chemical explosion at the Wacker plant in September 2017 injured 13 people, including plant workers, a firefighter and nearby residents. Wacker determined that a piston failure ignited a plant fire and sent 1,784 pounds of hydrochloric acid into the air.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation concluded that the blast was caused by a “sudden and unavoidable failure of process equipment.”

The investigation determined there were no hydrochloric acid readings that exceeded exposure guidance levels. The threshold for reportable quantity is 5,000 pounds, according to the report.

“Because the event meets the definition of a malfunction, and it is unlikely that public health or the environment were impacted due to the excess [hydrochloric acid] and [Trichlorosilane] emissions, it is recommended that no enforcement action be taken for the excess emissions resulting from the event,” a report said.

But a Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation into the same incident determined there were five serious violations and two “other-than-serious” violations that resulted in more than $25,000 in fines. A separate TOSHA investigation into an unrelated chemical spill that sent five workers to area hospitals a week prior to the explosion found two serious violations resulting in more than $20,000 in fines.

Wacker officials suspended chemical production for nearly eight months following the explosion as they looked into the incident, hired a third-party investigator, cleared the area of dangerous debris and chemicals, and made safety improvements to the facility.

The $2.6 billion plant makes a key product for solar panels and semi-conductors.

Contact Mike Pare at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.


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