Some Rockton families return home, despite Chemtool fire evacuation order

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ROCKTON, Ill. (WTVO) — On Wednesday, some families returned to their Rockton homes within the evacuation zone, despite health officials’ warnings that the environment may not be safe.

Following Monday’s Chemtool plant explosion in Rockton, many residents within a one-mile radius of the site were told to evacuate their homes.

Steven Reetz was among them. When he saw the fumes and black smoke in the air, he decided it was time for himself and his wife to leave.

“My wife and I both have some health issues that we didn’t want to stick around here too long, and we didn’t know if the wind was gonna change, so we decided to go,” said Reetz.

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.

“You know, you can breathe it but whose to say a year from now you don’t have ten other things go wrong with you. So, I just retired. I’d kinda’ liked to enjoy it, not be disabled from it,” he added.

Jeremy Wood lives on Oak Leaf Court, about a mile from the fire. As a father, he said he wasn’t taking any chances by staying.

“My wife and my daughter were home. We just watched the smoke. It was basically higher than them trees and just billowing, crazy. We said, we need to get out of here,” he said.

Both men returned home with their families on Wednesday.

“We didn’t know if the wind was gonna’ change so we decided to go, but after a huge couple days it was like, ‘Well, I’m ready to go back home,'” Reetz said, despite an evacuation order which remains in effect.

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.

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.

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.

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

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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