CHICAGO, Ill. (WTVO) — Gov. JB Pritzker signed legislation Wednesday that prohibits the disposal by incineration of firefighting foam that was used to combat the Chemtool plant fire in Rockton last year.
Bill HB 4818 is an amendment to the Environmental Protection Act that prohibits the use of any perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), including aqueous film forming foam (AFFF).
Since the 1940’s, PFAS have been used in a wide range of consumer products, industrial processes, and in AFFF.
An industrial team hired by Lubrizol Inc., parent company of Chemtool, used foam containing PFAS compounds to fight a fire following an explosion at Chemtool on June 15, 2021, before switching to another foam without them on orders of the fire chief in Rockton.
PFAS chemicals belong to a group known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which are used in a wide variety of industrial and household products. They have been linked to numerous health problems including cancer and damage to organs including the liver, kidneys and thyroid gland.
They are described as “forever chemicals” because they don’t degrade in the environment or the human body.
Louisiana-based U.S. Fire Pump used about 3,200 gallons of the PFAS-containing foam mixed with 71,000 gallons of water, according to the Illinois EPA.
State and federal regulators had raised concerns with the company about the PFAS-containing foam. It is legal in most of the U.S. but generally used only for highly flammable or combustible fires involving gas tankers and oil refineries, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“The health and safety of Illinoisans have always been my top priorities,” said Pritzker. “My administration is committed to listening to the latest scientific research and acting accordingly. We know that PFAS are harmful not just to the human body, but also to our environment. By signing this amendment, we ensure that these ‘forever chemicals’ don’t break down and pollute the air we breathe or the water we drink. Our Illinois is cleaner, safer, and more sustainable because of bills like this—and I am proud to sign it into law.”
The fire at Chemtool burned for several days. An outside contractor at the plant hit a pipe on June 14, 2021. Mineral oil spilled onto the floor and caught fire. About 70 employees were working at the time, though no one was hurt.
Everyone within one mile of the plant was forces to evacuate their homes. The evacuation order was lifted four days later.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Illinois had prohibited the use of PFAS substances, including firefighting foam.