UPDATE: Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC is now accepting personal injury cases for victims affected by the Rockton Chemtool blast that led to the evacuation of businesses and homes.
A horrific fire and explosion at the Lubrizol Corporation’s Rockton Chemtool plant released ash plumes and flying debris on Monday, June 14, 2021, covering local businesses and residential homes miles away from the blast. People and businesses in northern Illinois, including Rockton, South Beloit, and Roscoe, were affected.
Local law enforcement evacuated people within a one-mile radius and advised all people within three miles of the plant to wear masks while air quality was measured and water quality monitored. At least a thousand people were evacuated from the one-mile radius evacuation zone.
Local Authorities Concerned
At a press release and news conference on June 16, 2020, Rockton Fire Chief Kirk Wilson announced that the blaze had been contained. However, the evacuation order remained in effect. Wilson stated that the fire operations and suppression at Chemtool’s Rockton plant are still “underway and ongoing” and that the cause of the “catastrophic accident” has not yet been determined.
Two days after the blast, the fire suppression was ongoing, with visible signs of smoke still rising from the plant, with the burn-off expected to take several days longer. The chief said that there are approximately 150 homes throughout the evacuation zone.
The Winnebago County Public health administrator Dr. Sandra Martell stated that individuals with a compromised immune system should be especially concerned about “particular matter that can become pulmonary irritants.”
Martell advised residents not to “pick up waste that falls from the sky and is related to the fire.” She stated that “we do not know what the waste contains. Please do not handle it with bare hands. Use a shovel, use gloves, and sequester it – meaning keep it separate from your household waste – so that we know how to properly dispose of it.”
The Public Health Administrator stated that “we are reliant on our groundwater in this community, and keeping [it] safe is of utmost importance to us.” Health officials continually monitor air quality in the surrounding area using over 30 devices during the steady burn that can quickly identify dangerous emissions of sulfuric acid mist particulate matter released in the chemical fire.
Massive Chemical Fire
The explosion sparked massive fires for hours, sending flames, sulfuric acid mist particulate matter emissions, black smoke plumes high into the air, raining debris, and other air contaminants emitted across the surrounding community. One person in the area saw bits of cardboard and building material raining from the sky in the explosion’s aftermath.
Fire crews arrived at the Chemtool’s Rockton plant at 7:30 AM, located 95 miles northwest of Chicago near Rockton, evacuating approximately 70 employees to safety. In Winnebago County, near the Wisconsin border, the plant manufactures various fluids, including grease products and lubricants.
Local weather radar picked up the massive smoke plumes. By 8:46 AM, the Rockton Police Department had warned the surrounding community of a mandatory evacuation and to stay away from the area, awaiting further instructions.
Early reports indicated that it was yet to be determined if the sprinkler system activated when the fire started. The evacuation order remains in effect until state and federal officials give the “all-clear” from fire crews that all hazardous materials and other air contaminants are no longer being released.
Illinois Environmental Protection Agency Initiates an Investigation
On May 20, 2021, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) visited the chemical plant to follow up on complaints involving the health and safety of employees. Federal government records indicate that there had not been an investigation at the plant for nearly a decade until the May 2021 inquiry.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is concerned that toxic chemicals might have also been released in the surrounding area. Residents might be inhaling hazardous chemicals for some time.
One firefighter at the explosion scene was transported to the local hospital that night due to respiratory issues. The Fire Chief stated that the injured firefighter had “been evaluated and been sent home. So, he’s doing fine.” It had not been determined if any of the plant’s employees were injured.
Gov. JB Pritzker activated the State Emergency Operations Center that mobilized his emergency response personnel to monitor the fire continually. The Governor’s office stated at a press conference Tuesday that the Illinois National Guard had been deployed.
The Governor’s office also stated that the Illinois EPA crews had been released, as was the Illinois emergency management agency and other government agencies. Hopefully, investigators can determine the nature and amount of emissions of harmful chemicals into the atmosphere.
Illinois EPA Asks Illinois Attorney General’s Office to Take Legal Action
One day after the blast, the Illinois EPA asked the Attorney General’s Office to pursue legal action against the Lubrizol Corporation, which owns the chemical plant. The EPA’s referral cites numerous violations involving Chemtool due to airborne contaminants emitted into the surrounding community.
The Illinois EPA asks the attorney general to require Chemtool to immediately stop releasing pollutants, including toxic particulates, into the environment. The EPA also wants the chemical plant to provide documentation as to what caused the fire and estimate the type, quantity, and hazards of the pollutants that might have been emitted during the blast and subsequent days.
It may take months or years to determine the aftermath of the fire and the harmful effects it could have on those affected by the blast.
The government agency recognizes that if the Attorney General’s office takes legal action, the biggest American grease and lubricant manufacturer would need to develop and implement an effective work plan to remove hazardous materials to prevent any ongoing severe impact on the community.
The Company’s Response
Lubrizol Corporation Vice President of Operations Bill Snyder said that the chemical plant building was destroyed, but “right now, nobody is out of a job.” Berkshire Hathaway Company is Lubrizol’s parent company.
Bill Snyder stated that “we’re just heartbroken over what happened and its impact on the community.” The Chemtool manufacturer employs about 200 people developing lubricating greases at its Rockton facility.
Vice President Snyder stated during the news conference that “we’re going to support our employees: full pay, full benefits.”
Company management and health officials have stated that numerous private contractors will likely conduct remediation and spill clean-up. Rockton Village President John Peterson called it a “shame” that the Chemtool Building, its operations, and possibly jobs were lost.
The blast will likely have a severe impact on the community and those evacuated during the catastrophic event.
Berkshire Hathaway Purchased Lubrizol Corporation in 2011
In March 2011, Berkshire Hathaway, under the guidance of Warren Buffett, spent $9.7 billion in cash to acquire Lubrizol Corporation. The purchase led to one of the investment fund’s largest financial deals.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Buffett claimed that the Lubrizol Corporation was “exactly the sort of company with which we love to partner,” in part because of its “talented” CEO James Hambrick.
“Our only instruction to James – just keep doing for us what you have done so successfully for your shareholders.” Berkshire Hathaway purchased Lubrizol to operate as a subsidiary and keep its headquarters in Wickliffe, Ohio, with its current management remaining in place.
According to 2010 revenues, Lubrizol Corporation generated $5.4 billion annually when purchased by Berkshire Hathaway. The company manufactures fuel additives, industrial lubricants, thermoplastic polyurethanes (plastics), additives, and ingredients for pharmaceuticals and personal care products for worldwide distribution and sales.
Victims’ Compromised Well-Being
Early reports indicated that at least a thousand residents from the community were evacuated during the catastrophic blast and in the days that followed. Many individuals living just outside the three-mile perimeter likely did not wear masks and could have compromised their health.
Although health officials have yet to report any severe injuries and fatalities from the blast during a news conference, there may be many Rockton area residents and Chemtool plant employees that could have been affected.
The cause of the fire remains a mystery, and what the mitigation subcontractors will find during the clean-up is yet unknown. It may take years for the data to be released to the public, identifying the extent of the damage, the cause of the fire, and what residents and firefighters may have endured during and after the blast.
The lubricating and grease manufacturer will likely be cited for additional violations. The Attorney General could pursue criminal charges for releasing pollution into the atmosphere, groundwater supply, and waterways.
The long-term damage the blaze created may take years to understand fully.
However, identifying what every resident has already lost is abundantly clear – the damage to their home and their ability to continue enjoying living in the Village safely.
Further monitoring and testing will likely be required to start the process of restoring the area and atmosphere to their previous conditions.
Blast Injury Symptoms
A chemical blast creates an intense wave that can tear body tissue. Even in the exterior perimeter of an intense blast, victims may suffer damage to their lungs, eardrums, and abdomen. An intense wave can release toxins and throw debris at a rapid speed, injuring body parts.
Nearly all people who died instantly or were mortally wounded in a chemical blast were in the “kill zone,” a tight perimeter outward from the blast. Next, people in the critical casualty zone (secondary perimeter) are more likely to survive but have multiple severe injuries.
Individuals in the walking-wounded zone (blast periphery) usually experience psychological trauma and non-life-threatening injuries.
Any individual who suffered injuries in a horrific blast might have respiratory issues, including coughing up blood, shortness of breath, rapid breathing, chest pain, and wheezing. Any blast of the abdominal area might lead to the victim’s nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, blood in their vomit, and testicular or rectal pain.
A blast of the upper body may result in deafness, blindness, pain while walking, temporary or permanent paralysis, and spinal cord damage. Some survivors will experience a life-threatening heart attack or stroke.
Treating Blast Injuries
A competent doctor with the best diagnostic tools can evaluate a blast victim’s injuries to ensure that they receive the best treatment. Evaluating the victim for multiple traumas might require electrocardiography to measure the heart’s electrical activity and imaging studies (MRI, CT scan, etc.) to diagnose damaged bone and tissue.
Any blast that affects the chest, head, or face could cause multiple trauma injuries, including ears or lungs. The victim may suffer a crushing or penetrating injury that is only identified through a computed tomography scan or magnetic resonance imaging.
Once the doctor accurately diagnoses the victim with the blast injury, they could treat their condition with IV fluids and oxygen and monitor the patient for severe complications that could include:
- Acute crush syndrome
- Air embolism
- Compartment syndrome is typically identified by injured muscle swelling or other limb-threatening conditions
Some doctors treat blast injury patients with hyperbaric oxygen therapy to minimize the potential of developing deep tissue infections.
Hiring an Environmental Lawyer to Ensure Your Rights Are Protected
For years, the environmental attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC have represented residents and business owners to ensure that their health and property rights are protected. We represent victims suffering damage by harmful chemicals and pollutants released into the atmosphere.
If you suspect that your property has been damaged or your health has been compromised due to the Rockton Chemtool blast, call our law office today at (888) 424-5757 (toll-free phone call) or use the contact form to schedule a free consultation. Let us begin protecting your rights today.
All information you share with our law office remains confidential through an attorney-client relationship. We accept all personal injury cases and wrongful death lawsuits on a contingency fee basis, meaning we are paid for services only after successfully resolving your case through a negotiated settlement or jury verdict.