Air pollution in “Chemical Valley”
Excerpts from the Environment Commissioner of Ontario’s Annual Report published yesterday.
“The Aamjiwnaang First Nation community (also referred to as the Chippewas of Sarnia) is located
on the St. Clair River and within the city limits of Sarnia. The ancestors of the First Nation’s current
members have lived in southwestern Ontario for centuries (if not millennia), and the current
community site has been inhabited by the First Nation since at least 1827. Today, about 850 of the
First Nation’s approximately 2,000 band members live in the Aamjiwnaang community.
Over the past century, and particularly since the 1940s, the area surrounding Aamjiwnaang
has developed into one of the most heavily industrialised enclaves in Canada. Widely known as
“Chemical Valley,” the area is home to several dozen large industrial facilities, representing 40 per
cent of Canada’s chemical industry.
As a result of this concentration of industrial facilities, Sarnia suffers some of the worst air
pollution in Canada according to the World Health Organization’s 2011 Urban Outdoor Air
Pollution Database. Over 110 million kilograms of pollution were released into the air in 2009 and
about 60 per cent of this volume was released within five kilometres of the Aamjiwnaang First
Nation community. The way Ontario regulates air emissions – on a stand-alone, facility-by-facility
basis – is at least partially to blame for these high pollution loadings. There is no consideration
given to the potential cumulative or synergistic impacts on human health or the environment in
locales were emitters are clustered together.
Given their proximity to industrial facilities, the residents of Aamjiwnaang are heavily affected
by Sarnia’s air pollution. In addition to the permitted air emissions that occur on a daily basis,
the community has experienced “shelter-in-place” advisories requiring residents to stay inside,
seal air exchanges and await further instructions. These advisories are issued when air quality
is particularly bad, often due to a sudden release of chemicals to the outside environment (i.e.,
a spill). Residents report that this situation significantly affects their cultural life, including their
ability to participate in hunting, fishing, medicine gathering and ceremonial activities. This exposure
may also have significant repercussions for the health of the community.
Despite decades of work fighting for government accountability and for an end to new air emission approvals, the Aamjiwnaang First Nation still faces a number of unknowns about their past and present exposure to toxic airborne chemicals. They cannot even be sure that the community warning sirens are reliable or that the government will communicate openly and promptly about its environmental findings.Such a situation would be intolerable for any community, but in light of the particular historical context of this case, it is truly shameful.”
The report can be downloaded here: