Order: Chemtool to Pay for Cleanup


An Illinois judge on Monday approved an order holding Lubrizol’s Chemtool Inc. responsible for cleaning up the site of its former grease and additive plant in Rockton, Illinois, and for reimbursing state and local governments for costs they incurred in association with the June 2021 fire that destroyed the facility.

Signed by Judge Lisa R. Fabiano, of the state’s 17th Circuit Court, the order stems from a lawsuit filed last year by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and J. Hanley, state’s attorney for Winnebago County, where Rockton is located.

“Given the volume of hazardous materials involved in the fire and the amount of debris, it is vital that cleanup and remediation is done in accordance with environmental laws for the health and safety of all Rockton-area residents,” Raoul said.

“As the cleanup and investigation of this fire continue, it is paramount that Chemtool is held responsible for the damage that has been caused,” Hanley added. The order stated that it was intended to address immediate concerns but not necessarily to represent a final resolution.

The fire, which began on June 14, led Chemtool to declare the plant a total loss. It took days to extinguish and, according to the order, emitted particulate matter and potentially unknown contaminants into the atmosphere. Debris also landed in residents’ yards in proximity to the facility.

The order, which was also signed by Chemtool, lays out a number of steps to now be taken. Among those, Chemtool must provide a plan on how it will store or dispose of the remaining chemical products on the site, and a plan for demolition of the site. Those plans will be subject to the state’s approval. The company must also provide a weekly report on the quantity of chemicals collected or cleared from the site, along with a summary of any inspections conducted at the site to ensure no waste enters the ground or is in danger of reaching the Rock River, which is less than 500 yards away.

Chemtool must also reimburse the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and Winnebago Country for all costs incurred for fighting the fire, inspections of the site, and sampling of soil and water, among other services.

The order said Chemtool removed nearly 57,667 gallons of product from storage tanks that were compromised by the fire and stored it in frac tanks until disposal can be arranged.

The company took its own steps in response to the fire. It secured the services of US Fire Pump, a third-party emergency response team, to help battle the fire, and dug trenches to help contain it. Chemtool also collected air and water samples to evaluate pollution caused by the fire – though no contaminants have been found in the Rock River.

A hotline was also opened for residents to schedule appointments for debris removal. A little over a month after the fire, Chemtool had received almost 850 calls.

Local emergency officials have said the fire began when a lift operated by maintenance workers struck a pipe causing an oil leak. No one was injured.

The company said the plant was the sole source of some of its 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. In 2019, a Lubrizol lubricant additive manufacturing facility caught fire in Rouen, France. The blaze destroyed more than 5,200 metric tons of Lubrizol chemicals, and $40 million to $50 million worth of crops were destroyed out of safety precautions.