Eastman officials: ‘We were not quick enough in getting information out’ on day of explosion

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For the first time, at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Eastman Chemical Company officials said they didn’t do a good enough job communicating with the public when a massive explosion rattled the plant last October.
 
Company officials also answered questions for the first time since a state report cleared Eastman of any wrong-doing related to the blast.
 
The Tennessee Department of Environment report is complete. Eastman will not face fines because of the explosion that stunned the city last October.

But Eastman officials said, the company has enacted changes so mistakes aren’t repeated.

“We were not quick enough in getting information out. This included not just the city, and the county, and the media, but it included our own employees that day,” said David Golden, Senior Vice President, Chief Legal & Sustainability Officer, and Corporate Secretary for Eastman Chemical Company.

Eastman Chemical Company admitted what they should have done better after explosions on their property back on October 4th, 2017.

On that date, Eastman said they advised for a shelter in place across the city of Kingsport. People were even told to turn off their air conditioners, raising public fears.  

Looking back, Golden said that wasn’t a necessary move.

“That’s one piece that we looked at and we will do better going forward to be more precise in our instruction for shelter in place,” said Golden.

Other changes, Eastman says, also followed in the months since.

“One of the very specific things we’ve done is in the command center is to make sure that we have a person whose sole responsibility is communication,” said Golden.

Those efforts toward improved communication are something Sullivan County EMA Director Jim Bean says he’s noticed.

“We’ve had meetings with Eastman and the city and the county on how to get the word out to more people. So I believe communication has improved,” Bean said.

Bean and Eastman are both pushing now for all city and county residents to sign up for community alerts. You can do that on www.sullivancountytn.gov under the “Emergency Management” tab, or at www.kingsporttn.gov. For Kingsport, click on the alert icon in the middle of the page, then click on the yellow link to sign up to receive emergency alerts. You will need to input your personal information in the online form and submit to be registered.

Meanwhile, Eastman says they’ve made changes within the facility, too, to make sure they don’t see another explosion.

“We have made very specific changes to ensure this won’t happen again,” said Mark Cox, Senior Vice President, Chief Manufacturing, Supply Chain, and Engineering Officer for Eastman Chemical Company. “I’ll mention three. The first is we have installed an automated system, so our valving system is now automated so we have absolute certainty electronically on valve position. The second thing we’ve done is we’ve installed online analytical capability that allows us to understand the condition at which we would not operate the facility, and it ensures that the condition that existed at the time cannot exist. And then thirdly of course with these new installations we’ve ensured that we’ve trained our personnel properly.”

Last week, TDEC cleared Eastman Chemical Company of any wrong doing, and ruled the blasts a malfunction.

A TOSHA investigation is still ongoing.

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