Gasoline release at Joliet-area Exxon Mobil Refinery slickens roads
BY BOB OKON firstname.lastname@example.org October 19, 2012 11:22AM
A truck spreads sand at the intersection of Baseline Road and Arsenal Road where there is a possible leak at the Exxon Mobil Refinery in Channahon, Illinois, Friday, October 19, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun Times Media
Updated: November 22, 2012 6:32AM
CHANNAHON TOWNSHIP — An airborne release of oily substance from the ExxonMobil Refinery spread east as far as five miles away on Friday, shutting down a major road and landing on at least some houses in Elwood.
ExxonMobil described the substance as “gasoline and heavier material” but said they did not believe it caused any health hazards.
The material released at 9 a.m. made Arsenal Road so slippery that it was shut down for the rest of the day and was expected to remain closed until midnight. The road was shut down from I-55, where the refinery is located, to Illinois 53.
Kelsey Hirmer, a resident in the Noel Estates subdivision near Illinois 53 and Arsenal Road, said some houses there had been coated with the oil, including hers.
“The roof was covered with oil,” Hirmer said. “It’s on patio furniture. It’s all over the yard.”
Her neighbor’s house, she said, “looked like someone took a power sprayer and sprayed oil on it.”
There were other reports of houses coated with the substance, said Harold Damron, director of the Will County Emergency Management Agency.
“We didn’t really hear of much beyond Route 53,” Damron said. “That seemed to be the end of the line.”
Damron said the release is not believed to pose any health hazards, although it did produce a disturbing odor.
He said the incident is similar to one that occurred in July 1999, when an oil mist released from the refinery covered neighboring Channahon. Because of the wind direction, however, this release headed toward Elwood, and there are fewer homes in the immediate vicinity of the refinery.
Damron said the released material, according to ExxonMobil, is a combination of heavy gas oil, light gas oil and Naphtha — a liquid mixture used in the production of gasoline.
ExxonMobil set up a toll-free number for people to call with questions about the incident: 877-511-1012.
The company said it would pay for car washes for vehicles that were in the area during the incident and were soiled by the substance.
A refinery spokeswoman did not return repeated calls.
Damron said the Emergency Management Agency used an automated call system to notify people in an area covering more than 15 square miles to notify them of the release. He said the oil headed in a direction toward the Chicagoland Speedway but did not appear to get that far north.
Hirmer said she was worried about letting her children out into the yard. In addition to the oily coating, a bad small was dissipating as the day went on but still noticeable in late afternoon.
“As soon as you walk outside, you know something is not right,” she said.
The Will County Emergency Management Agency said in a statement that because of reports of foul odors, industrial hygienists from ExxonMobil and local fire departments tested air quality in the area and determined there was no health hazard.
According to the county, passenger vehicles can be washed at the Delta Sonic Car Wash at Jefferson Street and Larkin Avenue in Joliet. Semitrailers can be washed at A&R Transport at 2224 Empress Road in Joliet. An ExxonMobil representative will be on-site at those locations during business hours through the weekend.
In a statement, the county said the incident was caused by a safety system designed to relieve pressure and prevent a more serious incident from occurring.
“ExxonMobil will continue to investigate the cause of the incident but it is believed the system functioned as designed,” the county statement said.