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‘I don’t see how a tenth of a mile makes it safe’ Rockton residents who are evacuated voice frustrations over OSD festival taking place just outside the evacuation bubble

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(ROCKTON) — Thursday kicked off the return of Old Settler's Days after COVID-19 cancelled the festival in 2020.

Thousands of people came back for the event's return, but 2021 brought with it a new health concern.

The Chemtool plant is about a mile and a quarter away from the OSD fairgrounds, which health officials deemed was far enough away from the fire to host the event.

However, several neighbors who can't go back home like Kristyn Isom voiced their frustrations about how a quarter mile could make it safe for thousands to get together.

"I don't see how a tenth of a mile makes it safe and clear to go when we have no answers," Isom said. "We don't even know if it's safe for out kids to be outside or if we're allowed to run our AC's. The fact that Old Settler's Days is happening is mind boggling to me."

Evan Schoepski doesn't live within the one mile evacuation zone, but says he has no plans to attend the event due to its proximity to the fire.

"Personally, I'm not going to go to OSD when it's 1.2 miles from a chemical fire," Schoepski said. "It's not something that I want to put myself or my family at risk for."

OSD organizers on the other hand say they've been guided and green-lighted by health officials every step of the way. Social media director for the event Jonathan Sutherland says groups like the EPA have toured the grounds to certify the event's safety.

"We're working with the environmental operations team," Sutherland said. We also have the EPA out here. Village President John Peterson brought them out here and we're doing everything we can to protect ourselves and protect the community."

Sutherland said debris from the plant was found on the OSD grounds, but was removed and tested by the EPA. The EPA said none of their tests warranted concern or reason to cancel the festival.

As for evacuated people like Isom, four outstanding air quality tests still need to come back from labs before making a determination on the evacuation zone. Winnebago County Public Health Administrator Doctor Sandra Martell hopes those results come in early Friday.

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William Ingalls

William Ingalls is the weekend reporter at WREX. He joined the team in 2019 as a photographer after graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and English from Augustana College. William was born and raised in Rockford and went to high school at Christian Life.

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