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IL EPA investigates potentially hazardous foam used in Chemtool fire

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ROCKTON (WREX) — The Illinois EPA is investigating the use of fluorinated firefighting foam, which can cause "adverse human health effects," in fighting the Chemtool fire in Rockton.

The Illinois EPA did not say how long fluorinated firefighting foam was used but it said Chemtool/Lubrizol contractor U.S Fire Pumps switched to a non-fluorinated foam after 3,200 gallons of fluorinated firefighting foam was released, mixed with 71,000 gallons of water.

U.S Fire Pumps confirmed the foam used was Signature Series 1x3% C6AR-AFFF, according to the Illinois EPA.  The foam is a fluorinated surfactant and may contain Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) as an unintended by-product, and the foam can break down into Perfluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA) and potentially others.

Since the agency learned this foam was used, officials with the Illinois EPA has been conducting inspections of the Rock River and it said it is not aware of any direct impacts from the site, as trenches dug around the plant kept water/foam from reaching the river.

"Vacuum trucks have also been on-scene to remove water from trenches and on the property," according to a news release from the Illinois EPA. "Soil sampling of the trenches have been done and additional sampling is anticipated.  Absorbent booms, used to stop and prevent any spill from traveling further, were also deployed by Illinois EPA to further protect the Rock River on Tuesday prior to the use of the foam."

The Illinois EPA collected water samples from the Rock River on June 15, prior to the use of firefighting foam.  Samples were collected for BOD5 Biochemical Oxygen Demand, Total Suspended Solids, nutrients, metals, volatile organic compounds, and semi-volatile organic compounds.  Results are anticipated on Friday, according to the Illinois EPA.  It said it will collect additional samples for PFOA and PFHxA on Thursday to identify any contaminants that may have broken through containment. 

“The Illinois EPA will be conducting water quality testing of the Rock River and area groundwater following the Chemtool fire in Rockton. While there is no indication that the fire itself impacted the river, a Chemtool contractor used a fluorinated firefighting foam to put out the fire that may contain chemicals of concern. The company has since switched to using non-fluorine foam and with preventative efforts to keep foam from reaching the water, visual inspections do not indicate any impacts to Rock River at this time. Rock River does not serve as a drinking water source for Rockton and surrounding communities and IEPA is conducting additional testing of the community water supply to ensure there was no contamination from the fire. We will be fully transparent with the public and share test results and additional guidance as soon as we are able to do so.”

Illinois EPA

Rock River does not serve as a drinking water source for the Village of Rockton or surrounding communities. The Rockton community water system operates on groundwater wells.  The closest well is located more than 1.25 miles from the incident site.  One water tower was within the smoke plume, but it was well drained, according to the Illinois EPA, for fire-fighting efforts. The water system has isolated the tower from the remainder of the system until lab results show there has been no contamination.

During a news conference Wednesday at 9 a.m., 13 WREX asked Rockton Fire Protection District Chief Kirk Wilson about whether firefighters were using fluorinated firefighting foam.

Wilson said the foam used at the time of the news conference was non-fluorinated.

"We asked them not to use fluorinated foam but again as the EPA mentioned yesterday, the material safety data sheets have not been given to us yet but they are assuring us that the foam that's being used is non-fluorinated," Chief Wilson said. "Please understand too that we have large vacuuming trucks that are vacuuming any of run off and removing those to a hazaroud material site."

Breane Lyga

Breane Lyga is the content manager at 13 WREX. She joined the team in 2015 as the 5, 6 and 10PM news producer after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. She was 13 WREX’s assignment editor from 2017 to 2018.

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