A new study from the University of Michigan School of Public Health in collaboration with the Aamjiwnaang Environment Office confirms what many people of Aamjiwnaang (Chippewas of Sarnia First Nation) have long suspected: That exposure to the pollutants deriving from “Chemical Valley” is strongly associated with the neurodevelopment problems and skewed sex ratios that the local Ojibwe community has long observed.
“Chemical valley” is a region along the U.S.-Canada border near Lake Huron with more than 50 multinational industrial facilities operating in a 25 km2 area, including oil refineries and chemical production facilities. Many of the compounds associated with these production processes are polluting the region and are known to block estrogen levels, which is a crucial hormone in fetal development.
The study showed measured the chemical pollutants directly in the blood, urine, and hair samples of people in the Onkwehon:we community, concluding that “mothers and children in the Aamjiwnaang region are exposed to a number of environmental pollutants.”
Aamjiwnaang received international attention in 2005 after a study reported that boys accounted for only 35% of recent births in the community, and again during the height of the Idle No More movement when members of the community blockaded a CN Rail line to bring attention to such issues affecting Aamjiwnaang.
“In 2009 these facilities collectively released more than 110 million kilograms of pollution into the air. About 60% of these occurred within 5km of Aamjiwnaang… All these chemicals are potent neurotoxins, carcinogens, and endocrine inhibitors.”
The study suggested that people in the region are taking in the chemicals through inhalation and ingestion, by drinking local water consuming local fish, meat, and dairy, and simply breathing.
Among the limitations of the study included an admission that only 150 pollutants could be measured for, and the sample size in the study was small. But the study concludes that there is no doubt there is a link between the pollutants found in the bodies of mothers and children, and industrial contaminants.
Among the study’s concluding recommendations was a call for “an independent oversight panel that may provide objective and expert guidance concerning environmental public health risks in the Aamjiwnaang region in relation to pollutant exposures.”