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Chemical Plant Defends Use of PFAS on Fire

They say crews took steps to contain the material.

Chemtool Fire Ap
AP file

A company whose northern Illinois chemical plant was heavily damaged in a fire last week defended its use of firefighting foam containing toxic chemicals Wednesday, saying crews had taken steps to contain the material.

An industrial team hired by Lubrizol Inc., parent company of Chemtool, used foam containing PFAS compounds June 15 before switching to another foam without them on orders of the fire chief in Rockton, a town near the Wisconsin border.

State and federal regulators had raised concerns with the company about the PFAS-containing foam. It is legal in most of the U.S. but generally used only for highly flammable or combustible fires involving gas tankers and oil refineries, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The foam was used “in the early stages of firefighting efforts for a limited time given the heightened risk of letting the fire burn and spread," Lubrizol said in a statement Wednesday. “Fluorinated foam is twice as effective as non-fluorinated foam in suppressing a fire like the one we experienced and offered the best chance to control the fire in the shortest amount of time. ”

The company said the foam was sprayed on one portion of the site. Before it was applied, Lubrizol and the contractor, U.S. Fire Pumps, dug trenches around the property. The foam and water in which it was diluted were vacuumed up and stored in tanks for appropriate disposal, the statement said.

“We continue to run tests of the soil and water to further validate the effectiveness of the containment measures,” Lubrizol said.

PFAS chemicals belong to a group known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which are used in a wide variety of industrial and household products. They have been linked to numerous health problems including cancer and damage to organs including the liver, kidneys and thyroid gland.

They are described as “forever chemicals” because they don’t degrade in the environment or the human body.

Louisiana-based U.S. Fire Pump used about 3,200 gallons of the PFAS-containing foam mixed with 71,000 gallons of water, according to the Illinois EPA.

State officials did not respond to messages seeking comment Wednesday. The U.S. EPA said it stood by its earlier statement of concern about use of the foam.

The fire sent thick black smoke thousands of feet in the air and caused debris to rain onto nearby yards. About 1,000 residents were evacuated for four days.

Lubrizol said experts were continuing to monitor air quality in the area of the plant, which manufactured lubricants, grease products and other fluids. No negative effects have been detected aside from “the short-term irritation one would normally experience in the presence of smoke,” the company said.

Debris is being removed and properties cleaned, Lubrizol said. The debris will be sent to an EPA- approved facility for disposal.

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