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Golden: Eastman explosion was a 'terrible coincidence' and reminder of deadly 1960 blast

Hank Hayes • Updated Oct 4, 2017 at 7:13 PM

KINGSPORT — David Golden appeared to get emotional when asked for a reaction to the fact that Wednesday’s explosions and subsequent emergency response at Eastman Chemical Co. happened 57 years to the day after 16 people lost their lives in a blast on the company’s manufacturing site.

Golden, Eastman senior vice president, chief legal and sustainability officer and corporate secretary, called it a “terrible coincidence.”

 “October 4 doesn’t pass at Eastman. … We feel deeply and remember the events of October 4, 1960,” Golden said during a late afternoon media briefing. “As part of our legacy, we have worked hard to improve our process safety so that never, ever happens again. Today is just a stark reminder of the importance of process safety … the importance of quick evaluations and air monitoring. I would say those secondary systems worked well today.”

The explosions and fire in the coal gasification area caused no loss of life or injuries, but they did cause the company to shelter employees in their buildings. There was an emissions release, but none that imposed a risk, Golden noted.

Golden addressed these questions from reporters:

What was the first red flag that led the company to believe there was a problem at that building?

“There was a small explosion and then a larger one. When the small one occurred, we followed the protocol for the emergency responders in Kingsport — and a big shout out to them. We have great public response. The Kingsport city fire crew are wonderful. They did a great job.”

What is the protocol behind doing shelter in place?

“We’ve done analysis before to make sure a building is safe to do shelter in place. That goes into default mode until we do enough of an assessment and to be able to get the all clear.”

What happened to the planned test of the emergency response system?

“We got a real test of the (in-plant alerting) system as a result. … It’s very clear the system worked as the notice went out to shelter in place.”

Was the building where the incident happened on the former Primester site?

“It is off Jared Drive. Primester still sits in that general area for coal gas.”

Does Eastman expect to take an earnings hit because of today’s events?

“We’re still assessing this impact.”

Should employees and contractors expect to come to work in that area on Thursday? Will it be safe for them?

“It’s safe to report to work. We idled some operations while we were figuring out exactly what the status was. Those operations are returning to normal even as we speak. If there is a specific worker in that area that’s affected, supervision will contact them, but as a general statement, people should report to work.”

What kinds of chemicals were produced in that building?

“It was the coal gasification unit, so it would have been the acetyls, and that’s the part that affected.”

When will the review/investigation of the incident be completed, and will those results be released?

“That’s the balance between doing a news conference … and if we waited a bit, we would have better information, but we don’t know at this time.”

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