Production at Tesla’s Berlin Factory Could Be Delayed Due to Major Chemical Safety Hazards

The biggest issues involve chemical spills, toxic gas leakage, and fire risks—all of which Tesla wrote off as marginal.

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Production at Tesla’s Berlin Factory Could Be Delayed Due to Major Chemical Safety Hazards © Production at Tesla’s Berlin Factory Could Be Delayed Due to Major Chemical Safety Hazards

Construction of Tesla's new "Giga Berlin" factory in northeastern Germany has been far from straightforward. Hurdles encountered by the electric car giant have included environmental protests, disposal of unexploded World War II ordnance, and even a possible incident of arson reported by Reuters. But at long last, the installation of machinery is nearly complete, and the independent safety inspection performed, and its conclusions are... Ugly.

The factory's premises in Grünheide were, according to Business Insider, recently visited by engineering firm Müller-BBM, which conducted a safety survey of the facility. In its findings, which Bild reports were recently submitted to the State Environment Agency, reportedly identified more than 40 sources of danger, stemming from issues with waste storage, risk of battery fires, to two potentially lethal problems with chemical storage.

First among these are concerns regarding a container of liquid n-butyl-acetate—a flammable solvent sometimes used in nail polish—used in Tesla's paint shop. If its container is damaged, inspectors concluded, the chemical could spread unimpeded and rapidly evaporate, reportedly in as little as 10 minutes. Should the resulting vapors reach a source of ignition, they could explode.

"Put simply, this is about the leakage of toxic substances that form a pool," explained plant safety expert Oliver Kalusch to Business Insider. "This evaporates relatively quickly and forms a gas cloud that can explode or lead to fires."

A threat greater still, however, may be posed by another chemical stored on-site, tetrafluoropropene. If its container were to leak, this substance could reportedly form a pool, catch fire, and evaporate, producing gaseous hydrogen fluoride. This byproduct can then react with water to form powerful hydrofluoric acid, and if inhaled, hydrogen fluoride can cause potentially fatal pulmonary edema according to the Center for Disease Control.

"The gas is very toxic for the employees—and possibly even for the residents [of nearby Grünheide]," continued Kalusch. "The gas cloud could leak out of the factory and reach surrounding houses. This cannot be ruled out based on Tesla's meager calculations."

Tesla reportedly identified the risk of these chemicals leaking on its own, but apparently wrote off the risk thereof as marginal. Inspectors, however, reportedly deemed leaks "plausible," and pleased the carmaker to "derive and consider [sic]" these scenarios a second time.

"The core problem is that Tesla is incredibly cautious about this data, which is important for the safety of the factory, the employees and the surrounding communities—or does not calculate it conservatively enough, but basically assumes the best-case scenario," continued Kalusch.

Flippancy toward safety is no new phenomenon for Tesla, whose driving assist Autopilot continues to claim lives due to Tesla's continued exploitation of ignorance toward autonomous driving technologies. But if Tesla thinks the Silicon Valley move-fast-and-break-things philosophy will fly in Germany, the land of the infamously strict (but not implacable) TÜV, it still has a hard lesson to learn.

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