Multi-million dollar settlement reached in Rockton Chemtool class-action lawsuit

Neighbors who lived within a 3-mile radius of the June 14, 2021, Chemtool industrial fire in Rockton have reached a $94.5 million preliminary settlement with the company.

Neighbors, homeowners and tenants near the chemical plant, 1165 Prairie Hill Road, were made part of a class-action lawsuit after they were forced to evacuate their homes or shelter in place. Many of their properties were damaged by toxic smoke, dust and debris from the fire, which they argued caused their properties to lose value.

Lawyers in the preliminary settlement write that although neighbors believe they would "prevail on the merits at summary judgment or at trial," Chemtool and its parent company Lubrizol Corp. would mount a defense presenting "a significant risk that class representatives may not prevail."

The settlement reached with the help of two mediators says that the lawyers think it is fair agreement given the inherent risks and time-consuming nature of a trial.

More: Rockford area PFAS concerns stem from two neighborhoods

Chemtool has since filed a complaint against Holian Insulation Company accusing its employee of sparking the fire. Holian has denied any wrongdoing.

The class-action lawsuit only applies to property damage. Lawsuits alleging personal injuries are separate matters.

The preliminary settlement must still win approval from Winnebago County Judge Stephen Balogh during a Sept. 27 hearing to become final. Those who are part of the suit have until Aug. 14 to file objections to the settlement. A system is being implemented to process claims.

Notices of the lawsuit were sent to addresses within a 3-mile radius of the plant which was destroyed.

Flames burst into the sky above the Chemtool facility on Prairie Hill Road on Monday, June 14, 2021, in Rockton. A fire broke out at the plant that morning.
Flames burst into the sky above the Chemtool facility on Prairie Hill Road on Monday, June 14, 2021, in Rockton. A fire broke out at the plant that morning.

The Rockton Chemtool plant opened in 2008, manufacturing grease, lubricating oils and other industrial fluids. It caught fire and was destroyed the morning of June 14, 2021. The fire triggered several explosions and it went on to burn for days afterward.

Residents who lived within a mile of the plant were forced to evacuate their homes for four days while those outside of the immediate vicinity, but within the 3-mile radius were asked to shelter in place, not to open windows or turn on their air-conditioning units.

Elevated levels of dangerous chemicals, known as PFAS were found in Wright Kiles Blackhawk Subdivision, a 63-home residential area east of the Chemtool site, but the source of the forever chemicals is unclear.

The class-action lawsuit was filed by Charles K. Grasley, Tamika R. Walker, Paige Hoops, Diane Connelly and Eric Osberg on behalf of "the class" — the people living near the plant.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs and lawyers for Chemtool did not immediately respond to voice and email messages seeking comment.

Jeff Kolkey writes about government, economic development and other issues for the Rockford Register Star. He can be reached at  (815) 987-1374, via email at and on X @jeffkolkey.

This article originally appeared on Rockford Register Star: Judge must give final approval on $94.5 million Chemtool settlement