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UPDATE: PLANT CONSULTANT: Fire Started With Valve Malfunction
Reporter: WIFR 23 News Team

SEWARD (WIFR) – We’re continuing to follow a developing story out of Western Winnebago County.

A consultant for the plant says the problem started when a valve malfunctioned, however, we're still waiting for official word on the cause. Four workers were in the main plant at the time of the blast. One was thrown in the explosion and suffered a back injury.

The plant produces hexachlorodisilane which is a water-reactive colorless chemical. The fire and explosion sent that chemical into the air. This forced the entire town of 200 to be evacuated. As of 3:00 p.m. today, all families are allowed to return home.

Around noon yesterday, fire crews were called to the Nova-Kem Chemical Plant for an explosion. One worker was hurt, suffering a back injury, and is doing okay. The plant produces hexochlorodisilane, which is a water-reactive colorless chemical, so crews were unable to use water to put out the fire, due to fears of further explosions. Instead, they had to let the fire burn.

Analysts from the Environmental Protection Agency have been in Seward all day taking samples. The EPA says the air quality is safe, which is what prompted the lift on evacuations that lasted more than a day. Hazmat crews who checked the inside of the plant say air quality in the location is also safe. Crews say the best thing that could have happened was letting the chemical burn. They say the fire caused it to dissipate.

Many homeowners weren’t sure what to expect as they headed home this afternoon.
Many of them had to drop everything when they got word to evacuate. We caught up with Duane Lovett this afternoon as he and his family were allowed back into their house. They were caught out of town for much of this ordeal and are ready for things to get back to normal.

“I was glad I could get settled back into my routine of life, but I watch all the neighbors that are across the road they can’t get back in and they lined up out here and I feel bad that I’m out here doing my yard work and they’re standing there watching me,” said Lovett.

So just to re-cap what’s happened over the last 24 hours, investigators are still trying to figure out what caused the explosion at Nova-Kem yesterday afternoon. As of 3 p.m., all 200 residents of Seward are allowed to return home. The EPA has tested soil and water samples, which came back normal. They are concerned about air pollution. If you’re worried about your health, you can visit the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency website at http://www.epa.state.il.us/.
We tried getting a statement from Nova-Kem, but we’re still waiting to hear back. According to their website, Nova-Kem’s main facility is in Seward and also has a developmental center in Germantown, Wisconsin. It’s a subsidiary of Pro-Chem, which is based in Rockford. Nova-Kem was developed to focus solely on the manufacturing and purifying of hexachlorodisilane.

UPDATE: As of 3:00 p.m. Monday evacuation restrictions have been lifted for the residents of Seward. We will have complete coverage tonight on 23 News at 5, 6, and the Update at 10.

SEWARD (WIFR) – Residents of the town of about 200 people in Western Winnebago County are still not allowed to return to their homes.

After a fire and explosion at Nova-Kem, a chemical plant in town, fire crews let the fire burn through the day and night because water mixing with the chemicals may have triggered more explosions. This morning, Hazmat teams and fire personnel surveyed the damage. There is no word yet on the chemical impact of the fire and no word on when people will be allowed back in their homes.

The evacuation radius was decreased from two miles to a mile and a half. Families were allowed back into the area to grab extra clothes, medicine, and their pets.

UPDATE -- The evacuation radius has been shortened to within a mile and a half of the Nova-Kem plant in Seward.

Evacuees have been moved from Pecatonica High School to the Radisson Hotel in Rockford.

SEWARD (WIFR) -- The Pecatonica Fire Protection District tells us the entire town of Seward and those that live within two miles of the town will have to find somewhere else to stay tonight. The town is closed off to the community after Investigators tell us there was an explosion at the Nova-kem plant on 6th street this afternoon. Hazmat crews are on the scene as well as dozens of other departments.

Firefighters were concerned about hazardous chemicals being pushed into the air by the smoke. We're told one worker was injured but will survive.

Evacuees were told to seek shelter at Pecatonica High School. The Red Cross is helping those who need somewhere to stay or other needs tonight.

Fire crews were taking some individuals back into town tonight to retrieve certain items from their homes after the area was deemed safe enough.

Fire crews say the chemicals inside could have negatively reacted to water which is why they just let the building burn to the ground. They also said the main building where the fire started was a total loss.

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to arrive in Seward tomorrow morning to assess the damage.

Stay with WIFR as we'll continue to update you when more information becomes available.