Rockton air quality remains stable, Chemtool will pay for debris cleanup and evacuee expenses


AreaRAE Pro air monitor, RAE Systems, Honeywell

The Chemtool fire which began early Monday in Rockton is still being suppressed. The one-mile evacuation order is still in effect. Old Settlers Days, which is 1.2 miles away, is also still in effect, with concerts, carnival, and beer at Settlers Park in downtown Rockton. No Old Settlers Day festival parking is allowed within the evacuation zone, within a one mile radius of Lubrizol Corporation’s Chemtool facility at 1165 Prairie Hill Road in Rockton.

On Monday, the Village of Rockton released a map with a hand-drawn red circle that initially showed Settlers Park within the evacuation zone. But Fire Chief Kirk Wilson say the fire should have been the central point, not the entire parcel. The Village has since released a revised map.

The EPA website reports that "at the request of the Rockton mayor, U.S. EPA is operating an air monitoring network during the Old Settlers Day celebration this weekend... and will provide the data in real-time to village and county health officials so they can make any decisions necessary to protect the health of festival-goers." Testing shows the air quality is stable. The EPA says, "As the wind direction changes, the roaming monitors are moved to follow the plume and to provide real-time data to the responders. U.S. EPA has 12 AreaRAE Pro monitors, 15 DustTrak monitors and 8 Summa canisters available for site use."

Old Settlers Days is the major fundraiser for the Rockton Lions Club, and Lubrizol, the parent company of Chemtool, says they have made a donation to  them. Residents with damage claims from the fire, or hotel bills because of the evacuation, can submit them to Chemtool by filling out a form online. The deadline is October 31. Claimants need to include a W-9 form so Chemtool can report payments to the federal government.

Residents who find fire debris in their yards can call Clean Harbors at 877-552-8942 and they will remove it for free, paid for by the Lubrizol Foundation, which supports communities where Lubrizol facilities are located.

The Red Cross has closed the evacuation center at Roscoe Middle School after finding other places for the remaining three evacuees to stay, but residents can still call their hotline at 1-877-597-0747 if they need shelter. 

Until letter carriers can deliver their mail as usual, evacuated residents can pick it up from the Rockton Post Office at 214 W. Main Street, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

According to a phone recording at (815) 624-7910, the Walt Williamson Pool at Village Green Park was closed due to clean up operations from the Chemtool fire. The recording says, "When this message is updated, then we will be open."

At Thursday night's briefing, Rockton Fire Chief Kirk Wilson reports that fire suppression is going well, though smoke will continue for a few more days. They are using thermal imaging to find hot spots. He said that no causes for the fire has been identified yet - firefighters are concentrating on putting it out.

Craig Thomas, U.S. EPA’s on-site coordinator, said that fire flare ups have sometimes caused spikes, but that otherwise the air quality remains stable. The public can find all the test results on the U.S. EPA’s response website. Dr. Sandra Martell of the Winnebago County Health Department reported they are having debris samples tested as fast as they can, and she is "cautiously optimistic" they won't show elevated chemical levels.

The EPA says that US Fire Pump, the private firefighter contractors hired by Chemtool, used PFAS-containing foam for roughly three hours on June 15 to help suppress the fire. Chief Kirk Wilson had not been told that the foam contained PFAS. On the first day of the fire, U.S. EPA and Illinois EPA had strongly warned Chemtool not to use PFAS-containing foam. But US Fire Pump had started pumping fire-suppression foam with PFAS before Chemtool had talked to them about it. Chief Kirk Wilson told US Fire Pump  to stop pumping and to take steps to contain the foam runoff, following recommendations of the U.S. EPA and IEPA.  Since then, foam without PFAS is being used instead..

Some foam entered the Rock River, but they don't believe it was foam used in suppression efforts. The Village of Rockton says, "The mitigation response quickly trapped the foam by using river booms, and it was vacuumed into HAZMAT fracking containers on site. The foam is being tested to verify which foam was breached." Dr. Martell said the Rock River is closed from north of the Chemtool site through one mile south of it.

The Illinois EPA has asked the Illinois Attorney General to investigate alleged violations by Chemtool.  The news release basically demands that Chemtool put out the fire, explain why it happened, and estimate what chemicals were released. Chemtool says, "We understand this action, and we 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."

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