Further testing needed before Rockton residents can return home after Chemtool fire

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ROCKTON, Ill. (WTVO) — Winnebago County Health Department Director Dr. Sandra Martell said Rockton residents, evacuated due to the Monday’s fire at Chemtool, must stay away from their homes until more test results come back from the EPA.

Hundreds of Rockton residents are still evacuated from their homes within that one mile evacuation zone of the Chemtool facility, at 1165 Prairie Hill Road.

Neighbors were evacuated after the plant exploded. Rockton Middle School, at 6121 Elevator Rd, has been set up as an evacuation site.

Martell said there are concerns about the composition of particulates which were blown out of the building and onto neighboring homes and yards. She said testing will determine if it is safe to mow lawns, turn on air conditioners, etc., without endangering residents’ health.

The WCHD hopes to have test results from the Environmental Protection Agency by Thursday morning.

An air quality monitoring device, as seen in Rockton.

Martell did say air quality at ground level remains safe to breathe, and residents are no longer asked to wear masks. Individuals with underlying respiratory conditions should continue to wear masks, she said.

Rockton Fire Chief Kirk Wilson said so far, no toxins have been detected in the Rock River or Rockton’s water system.

Wilson said firefighters have made “significant progress” on containing the fire and the suppression efforts are still ongoing.

Dr. Ernest Chiodo, a toxicologist in Chicago, said, “From a fire, exposure of smoke exposure are respiratory, so asthma, shortness of breath, burning of the eyes, nose or throat,” are symptoms of concern. “If it was just the grease alone, but you’re saying there were other chemicals and that’s where I’m starting to think somebody’s got to make sure there’s not dioxins formed.”

Officials said the company stored lead, antifreeze, nitrogen, and sulfuric acid, among other chemicals.

An industrial firefighting team from Louisiana, US Fire Pump, has been spraying foam on the fire and digging trenches around the facility to mitigate residual chemical leakage. Wilson said the foam being used is safe for the environment.

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 the Lubrizol Foundation, the parent company of Chemtool, 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.

Lubrizol, the company that owns the Chemtool, Inc. plant which exploded Monday in Rockton, says it will continue to pay and provide benefits to employees impacted by the fire.

“We are providing our full support to our local employees. Pay and benefits will continue for employees while we work through this event, and we are providing counseling support for all those who want or need it. We do expect a total loss of the site,” the company said in a statement.

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