Wacker apologizes to community in full-page ad in Chattanooga, Cleveland newspapers

We apologize for any confusion or anxiety the incident last week at our WACKER-Charleston plant may have caused," the letter begins. (Image: WTVC)

In a full-page ad appearing in Thursday's edition of the Chattanooga Times-Free Press and the Cleveland Daily Banner, Wacker has apologized to the Charleston community for last week's explosion that injured 13 people, and forced evacuations and shelters in place across the community.

Wacker thanks local first responders, firefighters and law enforcement for their handling of the incident, and says "The plant at WACKER-Charleston is safe and secure." It also says production at the plant has been "suspended" to focus on the root cause of the incident.

Since the incident last week, many residents of Charleston have expressed frustration at how Wacker handled it. And an internal "shelter in place" order for Wacker employees issued five days after the incident did not help calm the community's nerves. The company told us that shelter-in-place order was due the presence of residual chemicals from the earlier explosion.

The letter also says crews continue to remove damaged piping from the incident "safely."

It also says it has hired what it calls a "third-party expert" to look into the incident.

The full-page letter in the Chattanooga Times-Free Press begins:

We apologize for any confusion or anxiety the incident last week at our WACKER-Charleston plant may have caused."

The letter continues:

"We know it was a stressful situation for our employees and our entire community. We would like to thank the almost 700 employees who live and work in the community for the their (sic) dedication to WACKER. We are thankful for all those who helped during the incident, including the Bradley County Emergency Management Agency, Bradley County Fire Department, Athens Fire Department and all others who responded."
The collaboration and joint training between teh WACKER Fire Department, WACKER team members and local agencies were critical to the successful response to the incident. This cooperation ensured the safety of our team members and our community.
The plant at WACKER-Charleston is safe and secure.
We have suspended production at our plant to focus on our investigation of the root cause of the incident and to make repairs for the safe resumption of operations. A tremendous amount of work is underway, but we will not restart production of polysilicon until we are certain of all the facts."
Last week's incident involved a hydrogen gas leak and explosion. We responded to alarms that indicated high hydrogen levels in the compressor room. We shut down the compressor and closed all valves supplying chemicals to the area. As soon as the explosion occurred, we ceased operations.
Our incident response team immediately contained the leak. For a period of time, as we investigate the incident, some residual material from the damaged piping will be removed under the safe care and control of the WACKER Fire Department. At no time did the chemical leak pose any harm or health concerns the community.
The site and area air quality monitoring throughout the event confirmed health and environmental standards were met. We have engaged an independent third-party expert to determine more details about what happened last week.
We are confident WACKER-Charleston will get through this challenge. We have a special plant and team. It's an extraordinary group of people. They demonstrated this fact last week.
We care for our team members and our community. WACKER-Charleston will be stronger and better because of what we went through last week. This is our pledge to you.
Mary Beth Hudson
Site Manager WACKER-Charleston"

On Wednesday, the Cleveland Daily-Banner newspaper reported that Charleston officials say they felt "left in the dark" about what happened, during their weekly Charleston City Commission meeting Tuesday night.

“No official in Charleston was notified,” Mayor Walter Goode declared during the meeting, according to the Banner's report.

We have a crew heading to Charleston and near the Wacker plant site now to get community reaction.

You can read what some of our viewers are saying about this story at this post on our Facebook page.

This story will be updated.

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