Health officials: Rockton residents around fire still cannot return home; mask mandate lifted


ROCKTON, Ill. — Illinois environmental officials are asking the state attorney general to look into filing charges in the explosion and fire at a chemical plant near Rockford.

The Chemtool plant in Rockton erupted in flames and thick black smoke Monday morning. Fire officials say the blaze could burn for several more days.

Chemtool makes lubricating greases and industrial fluids, but investigators say they haven’t yet figured out what triggered the blast.

As of Wednesday morning, the evacuation order is still in effect for Rockton residents who live within one mile of the Chemtool facility, located at at 1165 Prairie Hill Road.

At a press briefing, Fire Chief Kirk Wilson said the Winnebago County Health Department (WCHD) is reviewing data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and that it is not safe yet for evacuated residents to return home.

However, because the air quality has remained stable at the ground level, health officials have lifted a mask mandate that was implemented in a three mile radius around the fire.

“Until we have a better understanding, we are maintaining the evacuation zone of one mile, we understand the distress, trauma and the turmoil that this is causing for so many of our residents and our businesses in the community but we are doing this as an utmost precaution,” a health official said.

Health officials cited the fire coming from a chemical plant and are concerned about continuing falling ash and embers.

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