ROCKTON, Ill. (WTVO) — The company which owns Chemtool suffered a massive fire disaster at its plant in Rouen, France in September of 2019.
Lubrizol, which is owned by American investor Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, was charged with pollution and failure to meet safety standards after the Rouen explosion, which produced a thick black cloud of smoke that spread across the region and caused nausea, headaches and vomiting in residents, according to France 24. Reports say smoke and soot spread as far as Belgium and the Netherlands.
In a statement to Eyewitness News, a Lubrizol spokesperson said, “In 2019, a fire at our site in Rouen, France, impacted 10% of the site. The fire in that incident impacted a warehouse – not production/manufacturing. The investigation of that fire remains ongoing.”
Following the blaze, the Chamber of Agriculture placed a ban on harvesting of crops and sale of produce of animal origin in the days after the incident, while authorities worked to verify that food products within the affected area were below toxic thresholds.
A leak of mercaptan, a sulfur-smelling gas, was leaked from the same Rouen plant in 2013.
On Monday, June 14th, Lubrizol’s Chemtool plant in Rockton, at 1165 Prairie Hill Road, exploded around 7 a.m. in the morning. The cause of the fire remains undetermined.
The company manufactures fluids, lubricants and grease products which are distributed worldwide. Officials said the company stored lead, antifreeze, nitrogen, and sulfuric acid, among other chemicals.
A massive dark plume of smoke extended south-southeast from the fire, raining ash and debris on residents as far south as DeKalb.
Residents and businesses within a one-mile radius of the plant were asked to evacuate. As of Thursday morning, that order remains in effect.
Rockton Middle School, at 6121 Elevator Rd, has been set up as an evacuation site.
The company said in a press release Thursday morning, “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.”
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has been monitoring air quality and ground level water and soil samples for contaminants, but the results have not yet been returned, health officials said, although Winnebago County Health officials said Wednesday that no dangerous levels of pollutants were detected in the air.
Rockton Police say residents can call 877-552-8942 to arrange to have the fire-related debris removed for them, rather that removing it themselves. A contactor, Clean Harbors, has been arranged by Lubrizol to assist the residents in removing fire-related debris from residential homes and businesses in the area.
Winnebago County Board Chairman Joseph Chiarelli issued a disaster emergency proclamation on Tuesday, in order to bring aid to the county through the Illinois Emergency Management Act. The proclamation expires on Monday, June 21st.
A hotline has been set up at 815-972-7300 and RocktonChemFire@wchd.org for residents who are seeking relief information.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is asking the Illinois Attorney General to pursue legal action against Chemtool for a massive explosion and fire at the company’s Rockton facility on Monday.
According to a statement released by the IEPA, “In the referral, the Illinois EPA cites violations of the Illinois Environmental Protection Act and Illinois Pollution Control Board regulations by Chemtool for causing or allowing the release of pollution into the atmosphere. Additional violations may be added as information is available regarding the fire.
Lubrizol responded Wednesday, saying, “We have heard the Illinois EPA has issued a referral to the Illinois Attorney General’s office. We understand this action, and we will of course work with State and Federal regulators to address the concerns raised in the referral.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says it had been investigating a safety complaint at the Rockton Chemtool plant prior to Monday’s explosion.
OSHA confirmed that a complaint was filed May 20th. There is no word what the nature of the complaint was regarding other than was a complaint regarding safety and health.
Lubrizol says it will continue to pay and provide benefits to employees impacted by the fire.
Requests for reimbursement for personal expenses tied to the evacuation, such as hotel stays, can be filed at www.Lubrizol.com/Rockton.