EPA measuring air quality near Rockton chemical plant fire

ROCKTON, Ill. — Both state and federal Environmental Protection Agency teams are in Rockton measuring the air quality around the site of the Chemtool Incorporated fire.

The local public health department said people within a mile of the fire are asked to evacuate and people within three miles should wear face coverings.

All the agencies on scene agree that air quality is the biggest concern.

“We’ve got an environmental concern of immediate fire with chemicals and then we have items that were not intended to burn,” said Sandra Martell, the public health administrator for Winnebago county.

Officials don’t know what’s in the air yet, but they do have an idea of what’s in the plant.

“There are a number of different chemicals that are in there. One of them is lead, and basically what is antifreeze, nitrogen, sulfuric acid and a few others,” said Alicia Tate-Nadeau, director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.

EPA teams are collecting data from 18 air monitors around the fire.

“They’re going to monitor for VOCs or what we call volatile organic compounds, they’re going to look for sulfur dioxide and they’re going to look for lead,” said John Kim, director of Illinois EPA.

That data, along with wind and temperature measurements, will give leaders a better idea of what the plume of smoke is doing and how it will impact people.

“When you have cooler temperatures, that we’re going to get at night, that’s going to bring some of that down through what we call a temperature inversion. That’s why you may have a situation where at night time, dependent on how cool it gets, there may need to be some additional measures put into place,” said Kim.

Fire and environmental officials are also concerned about chemicals getting into the Rock River and contaminating the well water. That’s why firefighters chose not to fight the fire with water.