Environmental science

Local expert raises concern over Chemtool chemical report 13 Investigates

ROCKTON (WREX) — The Rockton community was eager for answers on Monday ahead of a major release from Chemtool.

After more than a year of waiting, the company had to release their emissions report to the public.

Chemtool did release the report, but one area expert says there are several issues from his first read through.

David Mills is an Associate Professor of Engineering and Engineering Technology at Northern Illinois University. He has more than 40 years of experience in combustion and environmental science along with a PHD from University of Illinois Chicago environmental occupational health sciences.

Mills wanted to be clear that this is his preliminary analysis, and not a professional judgment, but his early thoughts on the data is that it’s incomplete and takes major liberties in the process of a scientific report.

The Issues:

Lack of air monitoring data – Mills says this is a key study to determine what chemicals were in the fire and how much chemicals went up in the smoke plume. He says if there was no air monitoring data, that the report should have gotten to people’s hands sooner.

“First of all, there’s very little actual air monitoring data used from the time of the fire,” Mills said. “I don’t understand because of that, why did it take a year to produce this report if there wasn’t much data from the fire used.”

Old study used – Instead of air monitoring, the study cites a 25-year-old study from the American Industrial Hygiene Association Journal. Mills says beyond being an old study, it studies a controlled burn instead of an uncontrolled burn. He said in his experience, uncontrolled burns are often very different in nature and overall results.

Mills went on to say he believes more recent studies are available, but was also curious why data wasn’t used from a 2019 fire in France. That fire was another Lubrizol plant (the parent company of Chemtool) yet there’s no mention or comparison available.

No discussion of shortcomings/limitations: Mills says a necessity for scientific emissions reports is a detailed list of limitations of the study. He says some of the examples would be that there was little air monitoring data, and at the very least, reflect the uncertainty in the numbers presented in the report.

Instead, the estimated numbers have no listed room for error, something Mills doesn’t understand.

“You asked me why I wouldn’t take it from one of my students?” Mills said. “The fact that there’s no error bar anywhere in here around a data point that I can see, scientifically that’s one of the first things.”

Lack of references: Mills said he takes issue with the lack of references. He says he’s worked on several reports with hundreds of references, and says he relies on a library of more than 15,000 for the work he does. The emissions report submitted by Chemtool has fewer than 20 references.

Ruling out Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) – Mills says he’s very skeptical that PAHs were not involved in the fire. The report rules out their existence in the fire because of national guard samples, the firefighting water sampled and the limited air monitoring provided by Chemtool. Mills says the pictures of the fire in the report make it look like some PAHs were most likely. Ultimately, he believes not finding them in the tests doesn’t prove they weren’t in the fire.

Mills’ conclusion – Once again saying this is his preliminary review of the study, Mills believes conclusions can’t be drawn from the report one way or the other.

“I don’t think this report as it stands should provide the level of comfort one way or another that people are looking for or the level of definitive answer that people are looking for,” Mills said.

He says another study done that addresses all the issues he has may net the exact same result, but believes a more thorough and in depth study must be done before drawing long term conclusions about what chemicals are in the air from that fire, and what potential there could be health impacts.

To read the report in its entirety, click HERE.


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