Chemical Valley, Sarnia, Ontario, Canada


Sarnia is home to more than 60 refineries and chemical plants that produce gasoline, synthetic rubbers, and other materials. 40 percent of Canada's chemical is found in this 25 km radius, which according to a 2011 report by the World Health Organization, has the most polluted air in Canada.

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Basic Data
NameChemical Valley, Sarnia, Ontario, Canada
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Other industries
Chemical industries
Oil and gas refining
Specific CommoditiesCrude oil

Chemical products
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsIn 2005, 131 million kilograms of pollutants were released from 46 plants in Sarnias Chemical Valley, the inventory says.

Chemical Valley plants also collectively emitted 16.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2005, according to NPRI figures. This represents 21 per cent of the total for Ontario, and more than the entire greenhouse gas emissions of British Columbia.

More worrisome for the Aamjiwnaang, exposure to toxic pollutants for people in the region is the highest in the province. The report says that 60 per cent of the 5.7 million kilograms of toxic air releases recorded in 2005 were within a five kilometre radius of the reserve.

Project Area (in hectares)Radius of 25 km
Type of PopulationUrban
Start Date1947
Company Names or State EnterprisesNova Chemicals from Canada
Royal Dutch Shell (Shell) from Netherlands
Suncor Energy Inc from Canada
Dow Chemical Company from United States of America - ceased operations at its Sarnia site in 2009 and sold the land to TransAlta Energy Corporation (Canada)
TransAlta Energy Corporation from Canada
Lankem from Sri Lanka
Shell Canada Limited from Canada
Ethyl Corporation
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersVictims of the Chemical Valley, Aamjiwnaang Environmental Committee, Sarnia against Pipelines, Environmental Defence, Canada, Ecojustice
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationCommunity-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Bucket Brigades, toxic tours, organization of a symposium
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Oil spills, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
OtherThe city has the highest level of particulates air pollution of any Canadian city
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Other environmental related diseases
OtherWhile Sarnia at large suffers from exposure to airborne toxins, with higher rates of hospitalization than the rest of Ontario, the problems are compounded in Aamjiwnaang. The reserve is a sort of industrial sacrifice zone, continuously exposed to pollutants known to cause cancer, cardiovascular, respiratory, developmental and reproductive disorders – Aamjiwnaang has, for instance, a 39% rate of miscarriage and an anomalous birth ratio of two women for every man born (as opposed to national average of approximately 1:1).
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseDeaths
Strengthening of participation
Development of AlternativesEcojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund) filed a formal Application in 2009 with the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario calling on the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) to fill serious gaps in Ontarios pollution laws that currently put the health of Ontario residents at risk in highly polluted areas of the province such as in Sarnia. - See more at:
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.Rather than study the health issues, Canada under Stephen Harper has cut funding for First Nations health issues. Meanwhile emissions seem to be increasing and standards decreasing.
Sources and Materials

Emissions in the sarnia, ontario area

october 2007

an investigation of Cumulative air pollution

Exposing Canada’s Chemical Valley

[click to view]

an Ecojustice Report
[click to view]

Media Links

The Chemical Valley (VICE) Documentary
[click to view]

Sarnia Observer, More than 100 protesters trek 10 kilometres
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorLeah Temper
Last update08/04/2014