Residents File Suits Over Chemtool Fire


Lubrizol and its Chemtool subsidiary face lawsuits from residents alleging major impacts on their properties from the devastating fire that started on June 14 at the Chemtool grease plant in Rockton, Illinois. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

The incident began at about 8 a.m. Eastern time on June 14. Dozens of fire departments from the surrounding area in Illinois and Wisconsin responded to the blaze. The fire burned for days and forced the evacuation of residents within two miles of the plant. Lubrizol confirmed that all employees were evacuated safely. 

A lawsuit filed June 18 by the Collins Law Firm, P.C. in the circuit court in Winnebago County by attorneys representing two local residents alleges that the companies were negligent in not exercising the “reasonable care” needed to prevent the explosion and fire, and the resulting particulate matter, pollutants and other debris that were deposited on residents’ properties. It also alleges the companies failed to plan for and take sufficient safety and precaution measures to prevent such an explosion and fire, and to extinguish it. The suit seeks a damage judgement in excess of $50,000 for the “lost use and enjoyment” of the plaintiffs’ properties.

According to local news reports, at least two other lawsuits were filed that seek class action status on the behalf of other residents affected by the incident, and local attorneys said they plan to file individual civil suits over the fire as well.

“While we do not comment on legal matters, I can again re-iterate that we are devastated by this event and deeply regret the disruption and inconvenience that is has caused area residents,” Cody Adams, senior public relations manager for Lubrizol, told Lube Report in an emailed statement. “We are committed to helping the community, including donations we have made to the Northwestern Illinois Red Cross, the Northern Illinois Food Bank and the Rockton Lions Club.” The company also contracted with Clean Harbors to provide removal of fire-related debris by request from residents. “Additionally, we have reimbursement claim forms posted on our website for individuals and businesses,” Adams added. “Finally, while to-date date test results point to no impact to water systems, Chemtool is offering bottled water for residents with private wells in the evacuation area as wells are tested. We will continue to offer ongoing support to our neighbors as needs emerge.”

Adams noted that investigations into the cause of the fire remain ongoing. “We will work with federal, state and local authorities to assist them in determining the cause of the fire,” he said.

According to a Chemtool Rockton Overview infographic document released by Lubrizol, “The materials impacted in the fire are liquid ingredients and finished greases used in a variety of lubrication applications. We have provided a list of products and ingredients impacted by the fire to the local authorities, and our health and safety experts have completed a thorough evaluation of the materials burned.”

The company said it has been actively monitoring air and water sources and will continue to complete additional testing. “To date, test results by both Chemtool and local, state and federal organizations do not show any health risk other than the short-term irritation one would normally experience in the presence of smoke.”

On its website Lubrizol said the Chemtool site produced industrial fluids and finished greases used in a variety of applications and that the company was analyzing how much was lost in the fire. The company also said the Rockton plant was the sole source of some products.

Lubrizol, based in Wickliffe, Ohio, is the world’s largest lubricant additives supplier, with operations in other industries. The company acquired Chemtool, the largest manufacturer of grease in the U.S., in 2013 after initially announcing plans in 2011 to acquire it.