‘Stay inside, turn off A/C’: EPA testing air quality following Rockton Chemtool fire

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ROCKTON, Ill. (WTVO) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has arrived on-scene to determine if hazardous chemicals are a danger to surrounding residents following Monday’s massive fire at Chemtool.

An EPA spokesperson said, “U.S. EPA is on-site and will conduct air monitoring and air sampling at the site and downwind. U.S. EPA continues to support local and state agencies.”

According to health officials as of Tuesday, air quality test results do not show any health risks other than the short-term irritation one would normally experience in the presence of smoke.

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

Approximately 70 employees were evacuated and were uninjured. Rockton Fire Chief Kirk Wilson said one firefighter was treated for injuries.

Wilson also said air quality tests had been performed by the City of Rockford HAZMAT team, and “there is no danger to air quality” at ground level.

However, the EPA will be conducting tests to determine the impact to air, water and land, and it is unknown at this time when residents will be allowed back in their homes, Wilson said.

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

The Winnebago County Emergency Operations Center is tracking the smoke plume and wind direction, and says the area directly impacted is two miles to the south of Chemtool.

The county health department is asking residents within one mile of Chemtool to evacuate, and those within 2 miles to stay indoors and close windows and doors, and turn off air conditioners.

“It doesn’t mean the fire is down that air quality is finished next morning. It may take a few days so this will affect our area for a few days to come and a few days after this is over. I think this fire is not put down yet, hopefully, it will finish soon. But it’s going to take a few days for the air quality to change,” explained Dr. Yaser Zeater of Swedish American

The Illinois Department of Public Health is advising those residents within 3 miles to wear a mask if they are within the evacuation zone.

The health department also advised against touching debris from the fire with bare hands, and said if found, it should be stored separate from household waste.

Chemtool released an updated statement Monday afternoon, saying:

“Additional specialized emergency response resources have arrived at our Chemtool site in Rockton, Illinois. They will be diligently working alongside local emergency response to extinguish the fire and limit the impact on the community. We will provide an update as soon as the fire has been extinguished. We do not have an estimate on timing at this juncture.

“The precautionary evacuation of residents in a one-mile radius of the site remains in effect, under the direction of local emergency response. Lubrizol health and safety experts are completing a thorough analysis of all materials burned. We are working with third-party experts and government agencies on environmental air and water monitoring. We are not aware of any test results that show health risk other than the short-term irritation one would normally experience in the presence of smoke. We will continue to complete additional testing and have released all product data information to local authorities.”

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