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Massive smoke plumes could be seen for miles as explosions rocked at a manufacturing plant in Rockton, Illinois, on June 14, 2021. Residents within a 1-mile radius were evacuated, and officials urge those living within a 3-mile radius of the plant to wear a mask while outside; they further advise people not to pick up anything falling from the sky.
Emergency personnel responded at the Lubrizol Corporation’s Chemtool Facility at around 7 a.m. CT. In the statement released by the company, everyone at the site was accounted for and safe. “Our concern right now is for the safety of all of our employees and surrounding community.” The cause of the fire is unknown at the time.
Public Health Administrator for the Winnebago County Health Department, Dr. Sandra Martell, strongly suggests everyone in the evacuation zone don masks due to concerns of pulmonary irritants from airborne particulate matter — especially those with compromised immune systems.
Martell advises everyone to refrain from picking up anything falling from the sky as they do not know what the waste from the fire contains. Do not handle it with bare hands. She suggests using a shovel, gloves and keep the fallout separate from the household refuge. She added:
It’s very important. We are reliant on our groundwater in this community and keeping that safe is of utmost importance.
Rockton Fire Chief Kirk Wilson expects it will take several days before all products to burn off. He added they had ceased using the department’s water-based firefighting suppression inside the facility and were monitoring the burn-off.
The Chemtool website indicates it is a premium manufacturer of grease in the Americas.” The Rockton campus includes its corporate headquarters, a research lab, and one of its production facilities — manufacturing fluids, lubricants, and greases.
Authorities expressed concern over the fire becoming an environmental disaster, according to NBC News. Chief Wilson says the city wants to avoid a crisis that could happen if any of Chemtool’s oil-based products spilled off into the Rock River — a Mississippi River tributary.
All of the 70 employees at the factory were safe. However, on Monday night a firefighter suffered breathing difficulties that required hospitalization.
Chemtool thanks the first responders of more than 40 agencies and about 150-175 fire personnel. The company stated they would share more details as they are known. The Salvation Army of Rockford & Winnebago County staff and volunteers set up a mobile unit to provide food to the first responders.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office announced he activated the State Emergency Operation Center to help coordinate the response to a massive chemical fire.
Written by Cathy Milne-Ware
NBC 13: VIDEO: 4-Alarm fire breaks out at Chemtool manufacturing plant in Rockton; by Evan Leake
NBC News: Fire at Illinois chemical plant could cause ‘environmental nightmare,’ fire chief says; David K. Li
CNN: Illinois public health administrator urges residents near chemical fire to wear a mask and not pick up debris falling from the sky; by Shawn Nottingham, Paul P. Murphy, Deanna Hackney, and Amir Vera