Dr. Sandra Martel of the Winnebago Health Department gave a one hour presentation at the Village of Rockton on Feb. 7 to review findings of a one year follow up survey taken after the fire that happened on June 14, 2021.

Partnering with the Winnebago Health department are Centers for Disease Control and the Illinois Public Health Department.

Chemtool was owned by Lubrizol in Rockton. The property sat on a Superfund site that sat on 20 acres of land; formerly where Beloit Corp stood. Chemtool was a lubricant and a grease manufacturer.

Martel went over the timeline of the event. She talked about a one mile evacuation zone and a three mile map that ran from Illinois to parts of Wisconsin.

“We were in Recovery from Covid-19 at that time and we had to tell people to put masks back on, “

Martel said.

Martel showed a map displaying where the response to the survey was. Land, water, air and environmental factors and a soil support team were looked at.

While the fire was burning it was seen from the location to various parts of the stateline.

The IL. EPA Circle support and WI. EPA Engineering fund determined “Complex Results.”

The Illinois and United States Environmental Protection Agency had not posted results from the clean up after the fire.

“We brought in Chemtool contractors who helped with clean up efforts after residents called a hotline number. Contractors picked up yard waste at locations of reported fire debris. Water and sampling locations were part of these efforts,” Martel said.

Martel covered particulate matter ranging from 2.5 for smaller matter, to 10 for larger.

Both the fire department and Health Department kept watch on these numbers.

Martel reflected on health impacts resulting from the fire. “We sent the survey to residents who previously offered to do it; and we expanded the offer to others,” Martel said, “We also did door to door interviews along Watts Avenue which was closest to the Chemtool site. “

The Village of Rockton posted survey information on their website. “We had 294 replies,” Martel added,

Elements of a followup health impact survey covered mental health. Statistics show that 98 percent of respondents were ages 45-64, of those surveyed they showed to be adults, female and self-supported white women.

Demographics of Rockton show that 36 percent are 20-34 years of age. New or worsening health conditions were reported to be at 60 percent of those surveyed. Another 42.42 percent said that they haven’t suffered from any conditions. These numbers are based on those who may have had congestion, mucus, headaches, cough, eye irritations, or a skin rash.

Mental health since the fire showed that 38.39 percent had some symptoms related to the fire. Other self reported issues could have been difficulty with sleeping, falling asleep or staying asleep.

Prior to the fire no one had any advanced warning. “The average mental health rebounded,” Martel said.

When looking at who sought treatment after the fire; seven were hospitalized, four were treated at the fire; this was not part of the survey but falls under a confidentiality clause. At least 79.4 percent didn’t have any health care or they were self treated.

Martel gave an overview of pregnancy data of women who are 15-44 years old. Quantitative data addressed contested information, which includes the feeling after the survey and the overall response to it.

Martel went over ways that the word was spread through email, local news, phone alerts, word of mouth, social media, and how assurance is needed that the messaging that is being shared is accurate, and easily interpreted  information.

Martel stressed the importance of transparency with no internal cover up and holding those who took action to high standards of taking responsibility and being accountable.

Also tapped into were possible lingering odors, and air quality concerns. “The smell was not always something we can detect, “Martel said.

If you were on Watts Avenue you already knew that the site was there. Air quality effects on pets, children, neighbors, and the community were addressed. Long term effects in the environment, and water were taken into account.

Martel tapped into fear of the unknown, such as what type of effect can be had on mental health. “Sometimes we have to say, I don’t know what this is but this is what we know today,” Martel said.

“Sometimes in a crisis you are asked to go for your own safety as in the evacuation that took place right after the fire.

“As far as clean up efforts the job had to be bid. It just doesn’t happen that quickly. The facility was still up at the time, ”

Clarity of communication held great importance to the health department, “I hold us responsible for the times that we had a lack of information, or the lack of understandable information to present, “Martel said.

Overreaching concerns include water, air and possible long term physical health impacts.

One of the top sources of pride in the Rockton community is gardening. “They are very proud that people got out safely; which is the most important takeaway of all of the messages related to this fire,” Martel said.

Lessons learned include the need to address “Fear of the Unknown.” Physical health affects may take longer to recover or may persist longer than expected.

“We need to look at what needs to be done differently; especially with large quantities of terminal data,” Martel said.

At the very beginning after the fire high levels of air issues existed.

“Maybe in 10 years we might have to ask again as we may have a better understanding,” Martel said. “We need to step up our efforts to prepare constituents for environmental events. It needs to be determined when communities can safely resume activities. We need to tell people how to better manage in these situations.”

“I would like to thank the community who responded to the surveys; some twice in spite of a negative impact in their life.”

Trustee Justin York asked if there is any actual data that the village board of the public needs to be aware of.

Martel replied, “We need to help people understand how to gain some control; how do we help our community?”

The final point that was made is that the EPA should have a close out report on the clean up.

This full presentation can be found on the Winnebago County Health Department website.

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