Judge will issue preliminary approval of Chemtool settlement in next few weeks


After the Chemtool fire. Photo: googlymooglygooby, Reddit

Edward J. Manzke, one of the lead attorneys in the Chemtool class action lawsuit, confirmed on Friday, May 24, 2024 that "preliminary approval of a class wide settlement has recently been granted" and residents would get details in the next few weeks.

A massive explosion and fire broke out at 7 a.m. Monday morning, June 14, 2021, at Lubrizol's Chemtool facility in Rockton, Illinois. Residents are concerned about the contents of the fumes they inhaled and the contents of the debris which fell onto their property because of the explosion. Chemtool released a report on July 25, 2022 that estimated nearly 7,700 tons of chemicals were combusted in the fire.

Though several local media reported on the settlement Thursday, saying it would total $94.5 million, none lists a source for that information. A Chemtool representative told us Friday morning, "We do not comment on pending legal matters."

According to the Chemtool class action website, residents are automatically part of the “Class" if they are "current Illinois citizens who were, on June 14, 2021, owners or tenants of property located in Illinois within a three-mile radius of the Chemtool Plant." All class members will be included in the settlement, unless they opted out by letter by May 2023, which would have allowed them to file a separate lawsuit. 

Manzke told us, "Class Counsel are pleased to report that preliminary approval of a class wide settlement has recently been granted. The settlement will provide substantial relief to class members. Notice of the class settlement, advising class members of the preliminary approval order and their rights under the settlement, will be sent to class members in the next few weeks."

Residents will share in payments for property damage, agreeing not to file any individual lawsuits for that. But personal injury and health claims are not restricted. The notice of the class action lawsuit [PDF] says, "It is important to remember that this case only seeks to determine claims for property damages and injunctive relief. Personal injury claims (i.e., bodily injury, sickness, or disease related to exposure to the alleged contamination) are not being determined in this case and any such claims will not impact your status as a Class Member and your legal rights and options."

Residents Charles Grasley, Diane Connolly, Paige Hoops, and Eric Osberg filed a lawsuit [PDF] in Winnebago County 17th Judicial Circuit Court soon after the fire. It became a class action lawsuit [PDF] in November 10, 2022, automatically including everyone living within the 3-mile radius of Chemtool. These residents sued Chemtool and its parent company, Lubrizol.

On May 10, 2024, their attorneys, along with Chemtool's, asked Judge Stephen E. Balogh to grant preliminary approval of a proposed settlement. On May 16, 2024, Judge Balogh agreed, said the class members should be notified, established a deadline of August 14, 2024 for the filing of objections, and scheduled a hearing for September 27, 2024 to determine whether to grant final approval to the "Settlement Agreement." If finally approved, it would also result in the dismissal of a separate lawsuit filed by Stephanie Mackey, Nick Migliore, and Sara Henderson that was moved to federal court. 

Separately, Holian Insulation Company is also a defendant in the lawsuit, after an investigation found that the explosion began after one of their employees broke open a hot oil pipe. A report from OSHA says, "While operating the scissor lift, it struck a pressure tap on a hot oil return pipe for cooking kettle R604, resulting in an oil leak and subsequent fire." So Chemtool sued them too. All parties say they "intend to restart settlement negotiations in an effort to resolve those claims" against Holian as well. Another Joint Status Report will be issued in 60 days.

Though no contaminants have been found in the Village of Rockton public water system, many residents believe otherwise and have been filtering their water or buying it in bottles. The Chemtool explosion may be the most dramatic threat to nearby drinking water, but in fact, the EPA found contaminants in private well water dating back decades. The Chemtool factory was partly built on the existing Beloit Corp Superfund site. In fall 2024, a $1.5 million grant will pay to connect residents of unincorporated Rockton to the Village water system at no charge through the Blackhawk Avenue Area New Water Main and Service Connections Project will begin in the early fall. 

Because of the Beloit Corporation plant which operated from 1957 until 1999, groundwater tests found higher-than-acceptable levels of heavy metals in 2021 and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in 1988 in Rockton's Blackhawk Acres Subdivision, long before the Chemtool fire.

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