Chemtool employees still being paid, Rockton still under evacuation order

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Chemtool smoke plume as seen June 14 from Milton, Wisconsin. Photo: Jerry Koepke

Though the smoke plume was dwindling today in Rockton, according to the Winnebago County Health Department's dedicated web page, "Evacuation orders remain in place for residents within one mile of Chemtool." Officials lifted the 3-mile mask recommendation, except for those who may have respiratory conditions, three days after a huge fire broke out at Lubrizol Corporation’s Chemtool facility at 1165 Prairie Hill Road in Rockton on Monday morning.

Asked if the Rockton employees will lose their jobs because of the fire, Lubrizol spokesperson Alicia Gauer told Roscoe News, "We are providing full support to our employees during this challenging time. Pay and benefits will continue for employees while we work through this event, and we are providing counseling support for all those who want or need it. "

This morning, Lubrizol posted an update to their dedicated website:

  • Health and Safety: Understandably, questions have been raised about the materials burned in the fire. Our health and safety experts have completed a thorough evaluation of every Chemtool material burned. We are confident that the materials burned in the fire pose no health risk in the short or long-term, other than the short-term irritation one would normally experience in the presence of smoke.
  • During a fire of this magnitude, products will convert to their elemental form. The attached infographic details the mix of the elements from Chemtool’s impacted materials (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, as examples), which are elements we breathe and touch every day.
  • EPA Referral: We have not seen a formal document but will of course work with state and federal regulators to address the concerns raised in the referral. This would include working to address any pollution issues as we have since this incident began and executing a site clean-up once the fire has been extinguished.
  • Debris Clean Up and Community Support: We have contracted with Clean Harbors to provide removal of fire-related debris. Residents can call 877-552-8942 to request this service or find out more information. This number has been posted on the Winnebago County Health Department, as well as our response site www.Lubrizol.com/Rockton. Clean Harbors reports that they’ve heard from a variety of residents. Residents leaving a message need only do that once. All calls will be logged and returned.
  • In addition this effort, and our to-date support of the North Western Illinois Red Cross and the Northern Illinois Food Banks, we have also made a donation to the Rockton Lions Club.
  • For requests for reimbursement for personal expenses tied to the evacuation, such as hotel stays, we now have a claim form posted at www.Lubrizol.com/Rockton.

Lubrizol says that the current EPA referral is not related to the EPA visit in May, and added, "We again want to thank the first responders, safety forces and all organizations responding to this incident. We are grateful for your actions and will continue to provide our support."  According to WTVO, two firefighter were released from the hospital on Monday: one for inhalation injuries and another for a leg injury. 

Law enforcement has removed barricades in the evacuation area, so residents can drive through but "without stopping," says Rockton Fire Chief Kirk Wilson. "We just don't want people in their homes right now and running air conditioners and things like that."

Bill Snyder, VP of operations for Lubrizol Additives, the parent company of Chemtool, says it's too early to identify the cause of the fire. On Tuesday, the company called in US Fire Pump, a private industrial firefighting cooperative that has the world's largest emergency response team. Based in Louisiana, they have fought many refinery fires using a special fire-fighting foam.

Chief Wilson told a news conference Wednesday morning, "We talked about this product burning off for about seven days. We've reduced that dramatically, especially with the outside industrial firefighting crew that came in to support us, so we're hoping soon.. that we're going to have this mitigated." 

Environmental safety is on everyone's minds, and Chief Wilson said, "The foam that's being used right now is non-fluorinated, so it's a safe foam. We asked them to not use fluorinated foam. As the EPA mentioned yesterday, the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) have not been given to us yet, but they're assuring us that the foam that's being used is non-fluorinated. Please understand we have large vacuuming trucks that are actually vacuuming any of the run-off and removing those to a hazardous material site." 

At the news conference, Chief Wilson said, "The fire is contained. The hazardous materials are contained at this point. We took extreme precautions yesterday in protecting our waterways. The EPA laid out booms just in case there was some kind of release. But I'm happy to say there has not been any release of toxins into our waterway or our water system in the Village of Rockton."

Asked if Old Settlers Days, which runs Thursday through Sunday, might be canceled, Chief Wilson said, "We have to continue to monitor throughout the day, but right now we're going to continue with Old Settlers Days."

Joseph Chiarelli, Chairman of the Board of Winnebago County, proclaimed that a disaster emergency exists in the county, effective from June 14, 2021 until June 21, 2021.

The Village of Rockton says, "Officials continue to test water quality, and again encourage residents to not water lawns, etc. until further notice."

On their dedicated web page, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said they had found "elevated hydrogen cyanide near the fenceline" on June 15, but now report that levels of hydrogen cyanide near the fire are not exceeding normal limits. "This will be further evaluated," they say. Along with Illinois EPA responders, four U.S. EPA responders and eight contractors set up a network of fixed and roaming air monitors at the site and downwind. They are checking for volatile organic compounds (VOCs), oxygen (O2), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), carbon monoxide (CO), lower explosive limit (LEL), and particulates. 

The Illinois EPA says they have referred Chemtool to the Illinois Attorney General for enforcement of alleged violations:

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. The Company will be asked to develop and implement a work plan to remove any hazardous material from the site and address other compliance issues related to the incident. Additional procedures shall be established to prevent the reoccurrence of future events.

The Northern Illinois PIO issued the following update this morning:

Thursday, June 17, 2021, 10:25 a.m.

· One-mile evacuation zone remains in effect

· To file claims for reimbursement related to the evacuation, residents can access a claim form at www.wchd.org/fire

· Residents with fire debris on property should contact Clean Harbors at 877-552-8942

· When there is a significant development, the team will schedule another press conference

Rockton, Illinois – On the start of the fourth day of emergency response efforts, the Village of Rockton continues to work together with regional, State of Illinois and federal agencies on a coordinated emergency response.

The one-mile evacuation zone for residents and businesses remains in effect. Rockton Fire Chief Kirk Wilson states that no timeline for the one-mile evacuation zone to be lifted is available from emergency agencies. Residents no longer need to wear masks when outdoors within the 3-mile zone. However, those with respiratory conditions and underlying health conditions are encouraged to continue to do so.

Regarding air and water quality, the air quality is continuously being assessed from over 30 monitoring devices at ground level throughout Winnebago County. These monitors are moved at regular intervals to obtain comprehensive sampling. Water samples are being collected from the Rock River, sentinel wells, wastewater treatment plants, sanitation lines on site, and water runoff from fire suppression. Sampling will also be done in storm sewers on a pre-determined schedule to assess for contaminants. Soil sampling will be one component of the sample of the debris/ash from the fire in the evacuation zone that will be collected from a representative sample. Sampling will be expanded beyond the evacuation zone to determine the concentration in these areas.

Chief Wilson asks the public to remain patient, adding, “The fire is contained as fire suppression efforts continue. As materials are moved, there may be flare ups, but the fire is contained.” He encourages anyone experiencing respiratory issues to seek medical attention.

The Village encourages residents and the public to visit the Winnebago County Health Department’s website for up-to-date FAQs at www.wchd.org/fire. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 (Great Lakes Region) also has a website dedicated to providing air quality summaries at: https://response.epa.gov/ChemtoolFire. Those with fire debris on their property should contact Clean Harbors at 877-552-8942. To file claims for reimbursement related to the evacuation, residents can access a claim form at www.wchd.org/fire.

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