Rockton families may be able to return home Wednesday, health department says

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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Neighbors living within a mile of the Chemtool facility were evacuated Monday after a chemical plant in Rockton exploded. Officials said Tuesday that air quality, soil and water samples are being monitored, and they may be allowed to return on Wednesday.

The one mile evacuation order remains in effect overnight out of extreme caution, said Dr. Sandra Martell, director of the Winnebago County Health Department.

“The plume of smoke has clearly much dissipated but we want to make sure that what we can’t see that our air is of high quality. [We’re going to have] one more night in the evacuation to make sure those numbers stay for us and hold with the change in atmospheric condition,” Martell said at a press conference.

Officials said that as of 1 p.m. Tuesday, no pollutants have been detected in the Rock River.

Authorities said they found hydrogen cyanide outside of the facility in elevated levels.

The health department is advising residents within a 3 mile radius of the Chemtool plant to wear a mask.

Rockton Fire Chief Kirk Wilson said firefighters have made “significant progress” on containing the fire. 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.

“Our teams have been busy setting up our equipment and getting manpower into position to begin our extinguishing operations,” said US Fire Pump president and CEO, Chris Ferrara. “More importantly we have been focused on using our earth moving equipment to create trenching to minimize the risk of residual runoff to the Rock River”.

On Tuesday, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency asked 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.

“The referral asks the Attorney General to pursue legal action and require Chemtool to immediately stop the release and provide documentation to the Illinois EPA including the cause of the fire, and an estimate of the nature and amount of any emissions of sulfuric acid mist, particulate matter, and other air contaminants emitted as a result of the fire.”

Officials say the massive fire could burn for days. Residents within a one mile radius of Chemtool, 1165 Prairie Hill Road, were asked to evacuate.

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

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.

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