Rockton chemical plant explosion prompts lawsuit by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul
The massive chemical plant near the Illinois-Wisconsin border that went up in flames last month is now being sued by Attorney General Kwame Raoul and Winnebago County State’s Attorney J. Hanley for posing a substantial danger to the environment and public health after its plant burned for several days.
The lawsuit comes nearly a month after the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency called on Attorney General Kwame Raoul to take legal action against the Chemtool Inc. plant which makes oil-based lubricants in Rockton — about 10 miles north of Rockford. On June 14, a fire broke out at the plant that caused several explosions with black smoke that could be seen for miles.
“The Chemtool fire rattled the community, displaced residents, and took the combined resources and efforts of several fire departments to get under control,” Raoul said in a statement Friday. “Although the flames have been extinguished, the hazard posed to the public and the environment continues, and Chemtool owes the community more information.”
The lawsuit accuses Chemtool of polluting the air, unauthorized waste disposal and creating a water pollution hazard. Raoul and Hanley argue that “Chemtool is liable for damages and for the costs the state and Winnebago County have incurred in responding” to the chemical disaster.
It also seeks for Chemtool to assess the extent of the environmental contamination caused by the explosions and for them to take corrective actions that polluted the air, water and land.
The massive explosion forced the evacuations of residents and businesses within a 1-mile radius of the facility, and those within a 3-mile radius of the explosion were told to wear a mask. Several fire departments from Illinois and Wisconsin responded to the fire
The Rockton plant manufactures grease, lubricant oil and fluids and had stored more than four million gallons of crude oil at the facility, according to the Attorney General’s office. Officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has warned that the crude oil stored in the destroyed chemical plant poses a significant threat to the Rock River which is only about 700 feet away.
The lawsuit also said the facility still has four storage containers that are holding 100,000 gallons of petroleum product which have been “compromised by the fire” and “pose a significant threat to the land” and nearby river.
“The catastrophic fire at the Chemtool facility resulted in significant impacts on local residents and the surrounding community,” said Illinois EPA Director John Kim. “The action taken today by the Attorney General’s office is an important step to ensure that the company is held responsible for the effects of the fire, which include conducting a thorough investigation and proper remediation.”
Alicia Gauer, a spokeswoman for Chemtool, didn’t answer questions about the lawsuit but insisted the company will continue to work with regulators.
“We remain devastated by the fire at our Rockton Chemtool site and the impact on the local community,” Gauer said. “Throughout this event, we have been working with state and federal regulators to address their concerns and the needs of residents and will continue to do so.”