Public health officials continue to monitor health risks of Rockton chemical plant fire

BELOIT, Wis. — The one-mile evacuation order stays in place for a fourth day after a fire erupted at a grease factory in Rockton.

Health officials held a press conference at South Beloit High School on Thursday night to update the community on potential risks in the air, ground and water after the Chemtool fire.

The air quality remains stable and is below dangerous levels, though health officials aren’t yet ready to give the all-clear on health impact.

“It’s kind of like a finger stick for your blood glucose versus a laboratory testing to diagnose diabetes,” said Public Health Administrator Dr. Sandra Martell. “We want to confirm those results.”

The particles that make smoke visible are a main concern, as those particles represent chemicals which don’t always burn up fully. Officials say samples from debris are coming back with negative contaminants, but the evacuation zone remains in effect.

Fighting the fire has also meant a new concern. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is investigating after 35 gallons of foam that likely contained PFAS was used Tuesday morning. PFAS substances are used in many industrial and household products and are called “forever chemicals” because they don’t degrade in the environment.

The Rock River is one of several environmental elements that officials are fighting so hard to protect. There was a breach of firefighters foam that was not fluoridated and made it to the river, something officials said they did work to clean up quickly.