NIU professor says Rockton chemical exposure could have been worse if not for weather

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ROCKTON, Ill. (WTVO) — The Chemtool facility blaze has also sparked concerns surrounding the environment.

Environmental protection agents have been testing the quality of the Rock River as a precaution.
We spoke with a local professor who says Monday’s weather helped prevent a natural disaster.

Officials say they’re taking every precaution necessary to prevent the river from being contaminated

“Currently, EPA’s primary focus is on life safety and protection of the environment,” said Bobby Elzie the manager of the Office of Emergency Response for the Illinois EPA.

Elzie says trenches designed to block chemical runoff from entering the Rock River have done their job so far.

“We have emergency response contractors vacuuming up anything that should breach the trench, and then profiling it to send it to the correct place to get disposed of,” said Elzie.

The agency is continually taking water samples from spots both upstream and downstream of the river to test for contaminants.

“Currently, as of 1300, we have not seen any whatsoever. We have those samples being tested right now in Springfield, and we’ll get those results in the morning,” said Elzie.

“I think a lot of things lined up properly to make the impacts of this less than it could’ve been,” added NIU Engineering Technology Professor Dr. Williams Mills.

Dr. Mills says windy conditions Monday morning were close to ideal in terms of keeping waterways safe.

“You saw that plume rising very, very high, and then moving. And what that results in is that it’s basically diluting the chemicals that are being carried by the fire over a much larger space,” said Dr. Mills. “Dog days of August, in the middle of the night, all that fire would have been concentrated close to the ground.”

Mills says the use of absorbent booms in the Rock River as a last line of defense is also a smart move.

“Think of it as a sponge,” said Dr. Mills. “They’re made of a special fiber that’s very absorbent for organics and doesn’t hold water.”

Mills expects it will take weeks to discover the full scope of the environmental impacts of the fire. But he says so far there is no evidence to suggest short-term health concerns for residents.

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