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Winnebago Co. SA J. Hanley, IL AG Raoul file lawsuit against Chemtool over massive fire

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CHICAGO (WREX) — A lawsuit has been filed against Chemtool over a massive fire last month.

Attorney General Kwame Raoul and Winnebago County State’s Attorney J. Hanley Friday filed a lawsuit against Chemtool Inc.

Raoul and Hanley allege that the fire and efforts to control the fire resulted in smoke, particulate matter and unknown quantities of other contaminants being released into the environment.

Raoul and Hanley’s lawsuit was filed in Winnebago County Circuit Court and alleges that Chemtool’s actions pose a substantial danger to the public’s health and welfare and the environment.

The lawsuit also includes allegations of air and water pollution, creating a water pollution hazard, and unauthorized waste disposal. Raoul and Hanley allege that Chemtool is liable for damages and for the costs the state and Winnebago County have incurred in responding to the incident.

"I am grateful for the thorough and swift investigation by the Illinois EPA and Attorney General Kwame Raoul," Hanley said. "I look forward to working with the Attorney General to protect Winnebago County’s environment and the health of its citizens."

Chemtool’s Rockton plant manufactures grease, lubricating oil and fluids, and more than 4 million gallons of crude oil were stored at the facility. Currently, the facility still houses four storage tanks holding approximately 100,000 gallons of petroleum product. The facility is located near residences and the Rock River. Raoul and Hanley allege that the large volume of petroleum product stored in containers that have been compromised by the fire pose a significant threat to land and the Rock River.

Raoul’s lawsuit is based on referrals from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.

"The Chemtool fire rattled the community, displaced residents, and took the combined resources and efforts of several fire departments to get under control. Although the flames have been extinguished, the hazard posed to the public and the environment continues, and Chemtool owes the community more information," Raoul said. "My office, in collaboration with the Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s office will ensure that Chemtool is held responsible for evaluating the extent of the contamination and thoroughly remediating the damage."

The lawsuit comes hours after the Illinois EPA said the air and water quality were not impacted by the fire.

READ MORE: Air and water quality not impacted by Chemool fire

According to Raoul and Hanley’s lawsuit, the fire released ash, debris and other contaminants into the air, which landed on buildings, in residents’ yards, and throughout the area. In addition, Raoul and Hanley allege that firefighting foam used to suppress the fire was found in the Rock River after a pump failure. Raoul and Hanley allege that the debris, ash and runoff from the fire and firefighting efforts are waste that was not properly disposed of, which poses environmental hazards.

Raoul and Hanley’s lawsuit seeks to require Chemtool to assess the extent of the contamination, and take immediate corrective actions to address the release of pollutants to air, water and land. The lawsuit also seeks to compel Chemtool to take preventative actions to avoid the future release of pollutants, and pay civil penalties.

Assistant Attorneys General Kevin Garstka and Ellen O’Laughlin are handling the case for Raoul’s Environmental Bureau. Civil Bureau Chief Lafakeria Vaughn is handling the case for the Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s office.

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