Early soil, water tests from Rockton Chemtool disaster negative for contamination

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ROCKTON, Ill. (WTVO) — Health officials announced that Rockton’s evacuation order is still in effect Thursday night, as residents wait to return to their homes following Monday’s Chemtool factory fire.

Sampling of test results of falling material dispersed into the air have continued over the last 24 hours, Winnebago County Health Director Dr. Sandra Martell said. “Air quality samples have remained stable, without any changes in volatile compounds, carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide,” she added.

Multiple soil, ash and water samples are being analyzed by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Dr. Martell said about 50% of the samples have been analyzed so far, and none have indicated any chemicals of concern, she said.

Martell said they are anticipating more test results to come back Friday morning.

Photo: Village of Rockton

Health officials said there was a breach of some of the barriers installed in the Rock River to contain some of the chemical foam fire retardant used to extinguish the fire, and crews worked quickly to mitigate the escape.

Officials also said they are anticipating heavy rains tonight, but have a plan in place to contain runoff from the factory site in drainage ditches.

The chemical lubricant manufacturing facility, at 1165 Prairie Hill Road, exploded around 7 a.m. Monday morning and fire suppression efforts have been ongoing.

A massive dark plume of smoke from the fire could be seen for several days, and debris was found in residential yards as far away as DeKalb.

The health department said Thursday, “Regarding air and water quality, the air quality is continuously being assessed from over 30 monitoring devices at ground level throughout Winnebago County. These monitors are moved at regular intervals to obtain comprehensive sampling. Water samples are being collected from the Rock River, sentinel wells, wastewater treatment plants, sanitation lines on site, and water runoff from fire suppression. Sampling will also be done in storm sewers on a pre-determined schedule to assess for contaminants. Soil sampling will be one component of the sample of the debris/ash from the fire in the evacuation zone that will be collected from a representative sample. Sampling will be expanded beyond the evacuation zone to determine the concentration in these areas.”

Rockton Fire Chief Kirk Wilson asked for patience, adding, “The fire is contained as fire suppression efforts continue. As materials are moved, there may be flare ups, but the fire is contained.”

Lubrizol released a response Thursday morning, saying the materials that were burned in the Rockton Chemtool plant fire Monday do not pose a health risk.

The company states, “We are confident that the materials burned in the fire pose no health risk in the short or long-term, other than the short-term irritation one would normally experience in the presence of smoke.”

Chemtool’s VP of Operations Bill Snyder said requests for reimbursement for personal expenses tied to the evacuation, such as hotel stays, can be made via a claim form posted at www.Lubrizol.com/Rockton.

Snyder said his understanding is that part of the building had fire suppression systems and part of the building did not, but the structure met federal safety regulations.

He reiterated that the company is in “recovery mode” and is doing its best to support its employees and the community in the wake of the disaster, including doubling its annual donation, to $20,000, to the Rockton Lions Club, which runs this weekend’s Old Settlers Days festival.

Health officials have permitted Rockton’s Old Settlers Days festival, at Settler’s Park, to go on as planned this weekend. The fairgrounds are located just outside the one-mile evacuation zone. Dr. Martell said samples taken from the fairgrounds area came back negative for harmful chemicals.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday that, at the request of Rockton Mayor John Peterson, it would be operating an air monitoring network during the Old Settlers Days festival.

“The agency has set up fixed monitors in and around the area to monitor for volatile organic compounds (VOCs), oxygen (O2), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), carbon monoxide (CO), lower explosive limit (LEL), and particulates. U.S. EPA will provide the data in real-time to village and county health officials so they can make any decisions necessary to protect the health of festival-goers,” the EPA said in a statement.

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