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Rockton Community Rallies Together Amid Ongoing Fire

Concerned Rockton residents meet at the Mary's Market Banquet hall to discuss their options.
Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco
Concerned Rockton residents meet at the Mary's Market Banquet hall to discuss their options.

In Rockton, concerned residents packed a local banquet hall to discuss the ongoing chemical fire at the ChemTool facility. Their goal is to get organized.

The majority of the fire at ChemTool is under control. Public officials say that priorities are now shifting to address recovery and clean-up from the weeklong fire. But residents are worried that attention hasn’t come soon enough.

Rev. Marlene Walker was just one of the many residents concerned over the failure to clean up the debris that’s covered the region.

“We are a small congregation of mostly retired people. I have been calling clean harbors daily. And they still haven't come up. They're very nice. They say we'll get there as soon as possible,” Walker said. ”But I've been calling them daily, we had a large memorial service scheduled to take place on our grounds. Can't have people on those grounds.”

Clean Harbors is the waste management company that Lubrizol, the company that owns ChemTool, contracted to clear debris. WNIJ reached out for a comment from Clean Harbors but has not heard back at this time.

Kelly Clayton says that debris has taken over her life. Clayton lives about two miles from the fire, and among other concerns, she not sure if she’ll ever be able to eat from her vegetable garden again.

“So we have fruit trees in our yards. We have plums, pears, apples, cherries, raspberries that, you know, I had gotten from my grandmother when she passed away,” Clayton said. “And we had planted in our yard 15 years ago.”

Clayton is one of the over 120 people present at the meeting Monday night worried about what’s in store for the community as the last of the fumes clear up.

Some residents said they were experiencing headaches and nausea; one man was treated for chemical inhalation.

Elizabeth Lindquist was one of the organizers of the event, and she said this meeting was only the first of many. For Lindquist, it’s especially important not to let the issue fade away as media attention begins to shift elsewhere.

“We are a real grassroots group, we're just average citizens that care about this issue,” Lindquist said. “We're nobody official, we have no real structure. We're all volunteers, we're just focused on holding ChemTool and Lubrizol accountable for this disaster.”

Juanpablo covers environmental, substandard housing and police-community relations. He’s been a bilingual facilitator at the StoryCorps office in Chicago. As a civic reporting fellow at City Bureau, a non-profit news organization that focuses on Chicago’s South Side, Ramirez-Franco produced print and audio stories about the Pilsen neighborhood. Before that, he was a production intern at the Third Coast International Audio Festival and the rural America editorial intern at In These Times magazine. Ramirez-Franco grew up in northern Illinois. He is a graduate of Knox College.