After saying that they were going to avoid putting water and other chemicals on a fire burning at a Rockton lubricant plant this week, citing concerns about potential runoff, fire officials now say that they are using more aggressive methods to contain the blaze and adding safety protocols to protect nearby water sources.
As the fire continues to burn at the Chemtool chemical plant this week, fire officials now say that firefighters are spraying water and chemical foam to battle the blaze, and officials say that significant progress has been made.
An industrial firefighting crew from Louisiana, with experience in fighting fires at oil refineries and other chemical plants, is on scene and assisting with the efforts to combat the blaze, according to officials.
“We’ve made a lot of good progress throughout the day,” Rockton fire chief Kirk Wilson said. “The smoke plume has dissipated pretty quickly. They’re putting copious amounts of water on the fire and hotspots.”
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Officials had said Monday that they had planned to allow the fire to burn itself out, fearing that pouring additional water on the building could lead to chemical runoff into nearby water sources, including the Rock River, which is just 500 yards to the west of the plant.
A half-million gallons of oil remain on the site, according to officials, along with other chemicals like lead and sulfuric acid.
Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency say that booms are being installed on the river to prevent chemical runoff from making its way downstream, and according to Bobby Elzie, Illinois EPA manager of ops and emergency response, a pair of trenches have been built to direct runoff away from the site.
“The EPA is checking samples in the river to determine whether contaminants have made their way into the water,” Elzie said. “So far, no contaminants have been found.”
Wilson confirmed that firefighters haven’t observed any runoff at the site.
Testing will continue at multiple locations in the river, including at three locations downstream from the fire site, and at water treatment plants in the community, according to officials.
It remains unclear how long it will take firefighters to completely put out the blaze, but Wilson says that firefighters are prepared to deal with any hotspots that could flare up in the coming days.