Wacker reveals details on explosion at its US facility

The Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration (TOSHA) has released this week more details on the explosion that occurred at Wacker Chemie’s U.S. plant last September.

A spokesman for the Munich-based group told pv magazine that Polysilicon production is still on hold. However, the company has confirmed it is expected to restart this spring.

The safety agency has now released a report that states Wacker Chemie has violated several standards and government regulations, which is why it should now pay a total of $25,400 in penalties.

Five violations were classified as “serious” and two as “less serious”. These investigations by TOSHA also refer to maintenance work by Wacker Chemie at its U.S. plant in Charleston, which took place about a week before the explosion.

Mary Beth Hudson, Wacker Chemie’s vice president and plant manager in the U.S., said in an statement, “It has now been discovered that the September 7 incident resulted from a mechanical failure of the equipment in the hydrogen recovery building. A new piston, which is part of the recently improved compressor design, has led to the release of hydrogen that ignited.”

“Wacker Chemie is in the process of restoring production to restore the original compressor design. This will be used for securing operations in other locations worldwide,” Hudson added. In addition, further precautions will be implemented, while production restart is planned “in the near future,” she added.

According to Hudson, Wacker Chemie has worked closely with TOSHA and independent experts over the past few months to clarify the cause of the September incident. According to a local media report, the U.S. authority has not issued any official statement on Wacker Chemie’s violations of the security regulations.

The Cleveland Daily Banner has reported in detail on the violations and fines imposed. A spokesman for Wacker Chemie in Germany confirmed to pv magazine that this information is accurate.

The proposed penalties for the various violations add up to $24,500, with each fine ranging from $500 to $7,000, depending on the severity of the violation. Wacker Chemie now has 30 days to pay the fines, or 20 days to file a formal challenge against one or all points. “We will examine the decision carefully and then decide how we react to it,” said the spokesman for Wacker Chemie to pv magazine.

During the six months Wacker’s U.S. polysilicon factory has been idled, no employee has been dismissed. The time has rather been used for the conversion, training, maintenance and preparations activities for the restart.

Just a few days ago, TOSHA imposed fines of more than $20,000 on Wacker Chemie for other violations.