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Tennessee polysilicon plant suffers two safety incidents in a week

08 September 2017

An explosion at the Wacker Polysilicon plant in Charleston, Tennessee, has resulted in eight people being treated in local clinics and was the second incident at the plant in eight days. This second was caused by a mechanical incident [that] resulted in a hydrogen chemical release, according to a Wacker news release, while the previous incident left five workers with chemical burns.

Charleston plant - Image: Wacker
Charleston plant - Image: Wacker

The explosion released a cloud of low-concentrated hydrochloric acid, according to the Bradley County Sheriff's Office. In a statement, Wacker said it was monitoring air quality and measurements confirmed it was not harmful.

Shortly after the explosion, Bradley County officials urged people within the Charleston area to stay indoors and turn off their air conditioning units to minimise exposure. If they were able to evacuate safely, they were encouraged to do so.

The Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration is aware of the explosion and will have investigators on scene when emergency personnel conclude their work, Chris Cannon, a TOSHA spokesman, said on September 7.

The $2.5 billion plant manufactures hyperpure polysilicon for use in solar panels and is currently going through a $150 million expansion.

Records from TOSHA showed Wacker was cited and paid fines twice over dangerous working conditions since it opened in 2016.

An inspection in March 2016 cited a violation of regulations related to control of hazardous energy, and the company paid a $3,500 fine that September. In August 2016, violations related to process safety management of highly hazardous chemicals and respiratory protection cost the company $4,000.

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