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Chemical Valley, Sarnia, Ontario, Canada


Description

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.

Sandwiched between massive Dow Chemical, Suncor, and Shell facilities is Aamjiwnaang, a First Nations reserve with a population of about 850. The reserve, a representative case of environmental racism, is surrounded on all sides by refineries and petroleum facilities, many of which operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Its population has grown accustomed to living inside an industrial nightmare. About half of Chemical Valley's industrial facilities operate within five kilometres of the reserve, with some homes and community facilities (a basketball court, a baseball diamond, the band office, and for many years a daycare) immediately next door to refineries. 'I can see Shell from my window,' Ada Lockridge, an Aamjiwnaang resident, told me.

First Nations reservation called Aamjiwnaang where about 850 Chippewa have lived for over 300 years. Aamjiwnaang was originally a Chippewa hunting ground, but the area was turned into a First Nations reserve in 1827, after the British government snatched up an enormous amount of Native land.

In January, the Shell refinery had a 'spill,' meaning they accidentally leaked toxic chemicals into the air. The leaked substance included hydrogen sulfide, a highly toxic, potentially lethal substance that was used as a chemical weapon by the British in World War I. The gas floated over to Aamjiwnaang's daycare center, where the staff and students noticed the air began to smell strongly of rotten eggs. Almost instantly, kids got sick and many were sent to the hospital with headaches, nausea, and skin irritation. For hours, doctors wrongly diagnosed the children as having ordinary flus and colds—if Shell had owned up to the leak that exposed them to hydrogen sulfide, they would almost certainly have gotten better faster.

Since the incident in January, Shell is believed to have been responsible for two other leaks of hydrogen sulfide—one of them sent three workers to hospital and was still being investigated as of press time. Spills are a regular part of life in Aamjiwnaang. In 2008, the roof of a large tank belonging to Imperial Oil that contained benzene, a well-known carcinogen, collapsed. The entire city of Sarnia was told to stay inside with all of their doors and windows shut.

While 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).

The community has mobilized, and monitors the air through bucket brigades. In 2012, the First Nation held a symposium on the issue, funded in part by Health Canada, from March 25 to 27 in Sarnia. Leading scientists and environmental groups from across North America made presentations at the event, which highlighted the First Nations concerns about the health of the Aamjiwnaang and their neighbours in an area known as Chemical Valley.

Basic Data

NameChemical Valley, Sarnia, Ontario, Canada
CountryCanada
ProvinceOntario
SiteSarnia
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level

Source of Conflict

Type of Conflict (1st level)Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Chemical industries
Other industries
Oil and gas refining
Specific Commodities
Crude oil
Pesticides
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
Cabot
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
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Women
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

Impacts

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

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseDeaths
Migration/displacement
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: http://www.ecojustice.ca/media-centre/press-releases/chemical-valley-residents-demand-new-law-for-ontarios-pollution-hot-spots#sthash.M2VkoBui.dpuf
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

Links

Emissions in the sarnia, ontario area

october 2007

an investigation of Cumulative air pollution

Exposing Canada’s Chemical Valley

I LEFT MY LUNGS IN AAMJIWNAANG
http://www.vice.com/en_ca/read/i-left-my-lungs-in-aamjiwnaang-000300-v20n8

an Ecojustice Report
http://www.ecojustice.ca/publications/reports/report-exposing-canadas-chemical-valley/attachment

Media Links

The Chemical Valley (VICE) Documentary
http://www.vice.com/en_ca/vice-news/the-chemical-valley-part-1

Sarnia Observer, More than 100 protesters trek 10 kilometres
http://www.theobserver.ca/2013/03/15/police-urge-drivers-to-avoid-st-clair-parkway

Meta Information

ContributorLeah Temper
Last update08/04/2014

Images

 

Petrochemical industry of Sarnia's Chemical Valley, Ontario, Canada