Tests of Groundwater Underway After Chemtool Facility Fire in Rockton, Illinois

June 22, 2021

Officials stopped putting water on the fire due to fear that the runoff could make its way into a nearby river and threaten drinking water supplies.

On June 14, 2021, several fire departments from both Illinois and Wisconsin were called to a 6-alarm fire at the Chemtool facility in Rockton, Illinois. 

According to Illinois EPA, Chemtool makes greases, additives, and other fluids. As a result of the fire, the Rockton Fire Chief implemented a mandatory evacuation of a one-mile radius surrounding the facility due the presence of hazardous substances and oils within the building. Illinois EPA then requested assistance from the U.S. EPA due to the scale of the fire.

Officials stopped putting water on the fire due to fear that the runoff could make its way into a nearby river and threaten drinking water supplies, reported NBC Chicago

"There was a decision made to pull back on the use of water out of concern for runoff which is very understandable and that does go a long way towards that," said John Kim, director of the Illinois EPA, reported NBC Chicago. "There was some water used, and we also share the concern that nothing is going to be adversely impacting the Rock River. So we do have field staff that will be working with contractors retained by the company to go out to take a look and see if there is any runoff to conduct some sampling to make sure that we don't have anything getting off site, or anywhere near a potable water supply, so that we're not going to have that kind of concern."

The company hired to help extinguish a fire used foam containing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). There is no reported contamination of groundwater or the nearby Rock River, but tests are still ongoing, according to Illinois EPA in a separate statement to AP News.

The groundwater which the town draws its drinking water from will be evaluated, reported AP News. The closest municipal well is 1.25 miles from the factory, according to EPA.

As a result of the fire, homeowners within the 1-mile radius of Chemtool Inc. have filed a second class-action lawsuit against the manufacturing plant and its parent company, Lubrizol. The first lawsuit was filed the same day as the evacuation order was lifted for Rockton residents to return home.

According to WGN-TV, the second suit claims Rockton residents are suffering health issues from the smoke and dealing with damaged homes and yards covered in debris. The suit also says both companies were negligent in the care that would have prevented the explosion. 

As of June 21, the number of hot spots remaining at the site dropped from 13 on to five. After the fire is extinguished, Illinois EPA and U.S. EPA will oversee the cleanup of the site, reported Illinois EPA. 

According to Rockton Fire Chief Kirk Wilson, the cause of the fire is still under investigation, reported WGN-TV.

Residents can visit this website to request service for removing fire-related debris as well as reimbursement for personal expenses tied to the evacuation.

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Cristina Tuser