ROCKTON—Residents who were evacuated from their homes on June 14 due to environmental concerns relating to an industrial fire at the Chemtool site were told they could return to their homes on Friday, June 18.
Rockton Fire Chief Kirk Wilson announced Friday the evacuation order for those living within a one-mile radius of the lubricant manufacturing plant could return to their homes. He said there will be guidelines residents will be asked to follow as they return to their homes.
Dr. Sandra Martell, Winnebago County (Illinois) Health Department Administrator, said there are health precautions residents will be informed about, such as inspecting their air conditioning units before they are turned on, inspecting outdoor swimming pools and cleaning outdoor cooking grills. Guidelines for evacuees can be found at the health department’s website at www.wchd.org/fire.
Martell said the soil, water and air samples collected over the last few days came back indicating no dangerous levels of chemicals. There were 40 samples sent to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency lab in Springfield, she said.
“They do not have the compounds or chemicals that would cause any concern,” she said. “But, there will be ongoing testing at various sites.”
Martell and Wilson said they were happy to announce the lifting of the evacuation order.
“I imagine it’s been very stressful for them,” Martell said of the evacuees.
Wilson said investigations have indicated no suspicious or criminal activity in relation to the fire. He said there will be a review of the fire and the firefighting activities once the fire is completely out.
The fire started early June 14. Although smoke and particulate from the fire have reduced since the fire began, there still were hot spots on the site as of Friday and fire suppression activity continues. He did say firefighting activity was suspended for a short time Thursday due to weather conditions.
The private firefighting company hired by Lubrizol, the owner of Chemtool, remains on the site using foam in fire suppression efforts. The foam currently used is a water soluble version which has been used on the fire since June 15. On June 15, EPA officials and Wilson asked the private firefighting firm, U.S. Fire Pump based in Louisiana, to stop using a fire suppression foam that contained polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) which could raise environmental concerns if it entered groundwater or the nearby Rock River. The use of that foam was discontinued. There was a breach in a tank containing fire suppression foam on Thursday and some of that foam entered the Rock River, but Wilson said that was the water soluble foam and U.S. Fire Pump officials removed it from the water.
Craig Thomas of the U.S. EPA said buoys have been set up in the Rock River as a secondary barrier to ensure no chemicals or debris moves downstream. Trenches have been established around the Chemtool site as a primary method of preventing any chemicals or impurities from entering the waterways.
Lubrizol released a statement on its website on Thursday stating there is no evidence so far of environmental concerns caused by 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,” the statement read.
An air pollution complaint has been referred to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office regarding the Chemtool fire. Lubrizol stated they have not seen the document, but will cooperate with all state and federal officials.