By Jean Seegers


The Winnebago County Health Dept. (WCHD) has lifted the one-mile evacuation caution zone around Chemtool and declared it is now safe for residents to return home.

On the morning of June 15, a devastating fire erupted at Chemtool Inc, 1165 Prairie Hill Rd. in Rockton, sending thick black smoke and fire balls into the air.

The explosion and fire resulted in the complete destruction of the plant and created health hazards to residents within one to three miles of the facility. Families in the zone were evacuated from their homes.

Chemtool Inc. manufactures lubricants, cleaners, grease, heat transfers, rust removers, water treatment products and moldable ceramic products.

As the fire gradually abated, fact sheets and recommendations have been distributed to residents living in the evacuation area. 

* Don’t touch debris with bare hands. Wear long -sleeve clothing, gloves and masks.

* Keep children away from the debris.

* Clean or replace air conditioning filters.

* Residents with debris on their property should contact Clean Harbors at 877-552-8942.

Now that the fire is under control, fire-fighting agencies and state and federal investigators can begin recovery and cleaning efforts. Regulatory oversight will be headed by US EPA and I EPA.

Stationary air and water quality are being continually monitored.

US Fire Pump suppression operations are providing regulatory oversite.

Presently, air quality remains stable. Data can be found at https://response.epa//Chemtool

The IEPA is currently analyzing water in the Rock River and ground water collected from Rock River sentinel wells, waste water treatment plants, sanitation lines on site, and water run-off from fire suppression.

Sampling location maps are available on Il-EPA Chemtool webpage @ https/

Soil samples have been collected within the one-mile radius.  Preliminary results of the initial samples indicate no detection of Semi Volatile Organic Compounds (SVO).

Health interpretations of results collected on private property will be provided by WCHD directly to property owners.

All waste waters from the site are currently being collected and characterized for disposal before being shipped to an appropriate facility.

Damage assessment teams began assessment June 22, in the one-mile radius zone around Chemtool.

Several local agencies are involved including: Laborer’s Disaster Response Team; Team Rubicon; Christopher Burke Engineering and multiple volunteers from Rockford, Roscoe, Rockton and surrounding municipalities. 

Local damage assessment teams will be assisted by IL EPA and supported by Mutual Aid Box Alarm System. (MABS.)

Fire officials have determined the huge Chemtool fire that occurred the morning of June 14, at the facility at 1165 Prairie Hill Rd, in Rockton was accidental.

The fire started around 7 a.m. when a contractor was replacing insulation on a heat transfer pipe that carries heated mineral oil. Some of the mineral oil spilled when an outside contractor was using a scissor lift to reach the elevated pipes.

In a June 25, news release, Rockton Fire Chief Kirk Wilson said, “The most credible scenario is that the scissor lift struck a valve or other piece of piping with sufficient mechanical force to cause the release of mineral oil.”

”Chemtool operators promptly detected the release and shut down the boiler.  They were in the process of placing containment booms as well as de-pressuring the heat transfer piping network when the fire ignited.”

Residents within one mile of the plant were forced to evacuate for four days while public health officials studied air and water quality in the area.

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