Explosion at Illinois lubricants facility

Article by Amanda Doyle

AN explosion occurred at a facility in Rockton, Illinois, US, on 14 June. The subsequent fire has yet to be fully extinguished, but authorities say it is under control.

The explosion occurred at 07:15 local time on 14 June at the Chemtool facility in Rockton. All 70 employees on site were evacuated and none were injured. One firefighter obtained minor injuries.

The explosion caused a huge fire that resulted in plumes of black smoke rising high into the air. According to The Washington Post, the plumes were picked up by the weather radar. The explosion and subsequent fire resulted in the evacuation of around 1,000 residents who lived within 1.6 km, and those living within 4.8 km were advised to wear masks. According to ABC News, a sprinkler system was installed at the facility but it was not clear if the system activated when the fire occurred.

According to NBC Chicago, the firefighting effort has so far involved 84 fire departments. It reported that Kirk Wilson, Rockton Fire Protection District Chief, said on 15 June that it could take up to seven days for the fire to completely burn out.

Originally, the plan had been to let the volatiles burn off to avoid contamination of the nearby Rock River by firefighting foams. However, foam was sprayed on the site on 15 June, after a trench was dug and absorbent booms were placed around the facility to stop the waterway being contaminated. According to ABC7 Chicago, a few hot spots were still visible the following morning when its helicopter flew near the facility.

The facility produces petroleum-based lubricants. The company claims that it is one of the largest manufacturers of greases and functional fluids in the world.

A statement released by Lubrizol, Chemtool’s parent company, said: “We do not yet know what caused this incident, but we will be working with local authorities and with our own risk management team to determine what happened and identify any corrective actions. We will share more details as they are known. We are grateful to our employees, first responders and safety forces responding to this incident.”

“Lubrizol health and safety experts are completing a thorough analysis of all materials burned. We are working with third-party experts and government agencies on environmental air and water monitoring. We are not aware of any test results that show health risk other than the short-term irritation one would normally experience in the presence of smoke. We will continue to complete additional testing and have released all product data information to local authorities.”   

The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) is monitoring the incident and plans to deploy a team early next week. The CSB said that currently the situation seems to be a fire event and not a chemical process safety event. It said that the air quality at ground level is in the acceptable range. However, it notes that there may still be an environmental impact on the waterway.

Article by Amanda Doyle

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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