Wary Rockton residents return home for first time since Monday’s Chemtool plant fire


ROCKTON, Ill. (WTVO) — Rockton residents displaced by the evacuation order following Monday’s Chemtool factory fire were given the okay to return home on Friday.

“I’m excited to be back in my own home but I’m nervous because I’m wondering, are they doing it because they know that it’s safe and that the testing is accurately saying that it’s safe or are they doing it because of [Old Settlers Days]?” said Ashley Johnson.

Officials have said the Old Settlers Days fairgrounds, outside of the initial one-mile evacuation zone, are safe for the festival to be held this weekend.

Johnson lives on Kelsey Court, a few blocks from the Chemtool plant, at 1165 Prairie Hill Road.

“I’m nervous about my children being outside right now, playing in our neighborhood,” she said. “Because I don’t know what could be on the ground or even in our water. I’m very nervous as a mom, to bring them back.”

Katie Dillenburg also returned to her home today. She said she wanted to see if she felt her living conditions were safe enough for her family.

Dillenburg she’ll never forget being told to evacuate from her house.

“Not knowing the chemicals and stuff, and what it was in the air and all the debris [that was] falling, I was scared the grass was going to catch on fire. I mean, it’s so dry,” she said.

Dillenburg says she still has concerns about the air quality in her neighborhood.

Winnebago County Health officials said that air pollution tests have shown that the breathable air at ground level is safe. Residents with respiratory conditions are encouraged to wear masks as a precaution.

Multiple soil, ash and water samples are being analyzed by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. WCHD director Dr. Martell said of the samples that have been analyzed so far, and none have indicated any chemicals of concern, she said.

She says at this point, Dillenburg just glad her family can sleep in their own beds tonight.

“It’s nice. It was kind of stressful, having to go to family’s houses and hotels. I have two little ones, so it makes it even harder,” she said.

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