Ont. First Nation calls for chemical plant to be shut down amid ‘dangerously high’ benzene levels

Dangerously high levels of the cancer-causing chemical benzene have left residents of a First Nation near Sarnia, Ont., sickened and hospitalized.
Aamjiwnaang First Nation, with an on-reserve population of 900, located along the Michigan border, issued an urgent statement Tuesday that called on the federal and provincial governments to shut down INEOS Styrolution facility, the chemical manufacturer, which the First Nation alleges is the source of the chemical leak.Benzene levels detected in the area reached as high as 115 micrograms per cubic metre on April 16, according to data from the Clean Air Sarnia Area (CASA) website. Prevailing wind direction indicates the benzene emissions apparently came from INEOS’s tanks.

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The annual standard set by Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment for benzene is 0.45 micrograms per cubic metre. Story continues below advertisement

“The cause of these symptoms is directly related to the continuing and excessive levels of benzene emissions coming from the INEOS facility located directly across from the Band office, environmental office, and community playground (recreation area),” Aamjiwnaang’s chief and council wrote in a statement.

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“Canada and Ontario are acutely aware of this ongoing environmental racism.”
Last year, the province ordered INEOS to reduce benzene discharges from its tanks.David R. MacDonald, the operations manager and interim site director for INEOS Styrolution, said the company is “carefully reviewing” concerns raised by Aamjiwnaang First Nation regarding benzene readings from the INEOS site.“The site works closely with the (Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks) to ensure we stay within the prescribed emissions limits,” MacDonald wrote in an email.The First Nation said some employees of the band office were sent home after experiencing “headaches, nausea and dizziness.”

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On social media, members of Aamjiwnaang complained of extreme headaches, burning eyes, dizziness and irritated throats. Global News has confirmed multiple residents were taken to hospital by ambulance after experiencing sudden dizziness and nausea. Story continues below advertisement

Aamjiwnaang issued an urgent warning to its residents about extremely high levels of benzene that led to the closures of several buildings, including the band office, prevention education admin and public works buildings.

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No emergency alerts were sent through Sarnia-Lambton Alerts, which issues notices on behalf of chemical and oil refining companies, or via the community emergency management co-ordinator, which is operated by the city.Both Sarnia-Lambton Alerts, which is run by the Bluewater Association for Safety, Environment, and Sustainability (BASES), and the City of Sarnia said it did not issue an alert related to the spike as it was not notified by INEOS.“No such notification was issued from industry to inform us of any air quality issues,” a spokesperson for the City of Sarnia said in an email.“We are working with our partners at Aamjiwnaang First Nation and the Bluewater Association For Safety, Environment, And Sustainability industry group to review the incident and ensure that our residents continue to be notified of any potential or realized air quality risks.”

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Andrea Khanjin, Ontario’s environment minister, and federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault have not yet responded to requests for comment. Story continues below advertisement

A Global News investigation in 2017 revealed the serious health effects that residents of Aamjiwnaang First Nation and the city of Sarnia were suffering due to the proximity of refineries and chemical plants in the area known as “Chemical Valley.”Following the investigation, the Ontario government launched a multi-million-dollar project to examine the possible connection between air pollution from the industrial plants and public health.

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