Chemical Valley: Adverse health affects due to pollution in the Aamjiwnaang Territories

By: Brandon Jank

The health affects in Chemical Valley and amount of pollutants found in the water, soil and air, thanks to more than 100 years of Industry and its toxic legacy, are virtually unknown. The repeated refusal from the Ontario Government to fund efforts for a conclusive study on the territory is not helping the situation at hand.

Chemical Valley has the worst air in Canada. Just that fact alone makes it clear there are statistics that would be uncovered, both Industry and Government would much rather those statistics remain hidden.

Imperial Oil, one of the large companies stationed in the area, released a massive flare without warning last February. As a result, massive amounts of sulphur were released. When mixed with Oxygen this creates Sulphur Dioxide, which causes irritation in the nose, eyes and throat depending on the severity of the exposure. With prolonged exposure, it can cause long-term damage to the respiratory system and vascular damage in the veins of the brain, heart and kidneys.

Today, the community affected most has no answers as to what actually occurred that night and  ensuing days. Even though the flaring was deemed ‘excessive’, Imperial has refused to address the implications of expelling such a massive amount of pollution and toxic emissions in such a short period of time stating that the sinister photos of what looked like a refinery set ablaze was ‘normal’ and  ‘an optical illusion’.

The supposed ‘flare’ started roughly around 6 p.m. and raged on for another five hours. After another 10 days of periodic, above average flaring, the problem was fixed on March 5.  According to Imperial, there was no problem, but in the same sentence assured the public that whatever ‘it’ was, was fixed.

Maybe it’s just me, but if something needs to be ‘fixed’ a problem has likely occurred. The lack of disregard lays in the disaster, but the carelessness and lack of  accountability will always lay in statements made to the press after the fact.

This is just one of many instances of careless disregard for human and environmental health caused by Big Oil.

The worst part of these spills and disasters is that it is often local daycares that notice first. In other words, Aamjiwnaang’s children are the first to be affected by a deadly cocktail of volatile chemicals that eventually spread to the community.

Shell also had a major spill in January of 2013, containing Benzene, a well known carcinogen, unsafe at any level of human consumption. A weak, innocuous apology emerged, devoid of any wrong doing stated “We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience our neighbours may have experienced during this incident.” They were eventually charged $500,000 and ordered to pay Aamjiwnaang $200,000.

S200 000. The price tag of human life in Chemical Valley. These fines mean nothing to the Industry, as a matter of fact, throughout the Industry, these costs are considered ‘a cost of doing business.’ A tax for the heartless if you will.

These are just two of the more-known publicized examples of the carelessness and complete disregard for human life by an Industry that values dollars over heartbeats.

Though there have been no absolute, conclusive studies done by Health Canada or any such agency in the areas affected. Although there are a few stats gathered throughout the years by independents, and some of them are shocking. Statistics are few and far between where Chemical Valley is concerned, thanks to Canada’s Liberal Government. Here is what little I could find:

  •  – In a study from early 2000, cancer rates among men were 34 per cent above the provincial average.
  • – Forty per cent of Canada’s Petrochemical Industry is packed into a 15-square -mile area in Chemical Valley. Sixty plants run 24 hours, seven days a week.
  • – Two to one female to male birth ratio which is a statistical anomaly that has never occurred in recorded history. The same  occurrence was found among animals, when studied it was found that animals living in heavily polluted areas were affected the most.
  • – Thirty-nine per cent of woman who have become pregnant have suffered either a stillborn or miscarriage.
  • – Chemical Valley has the most polluted air in Canada.
  • – In 2005, 13 million kg of pollutants was released from 46 plants. There are now 60 plants, it does not take a genius to determine that it has only gotten worse.
  • – Sixty per cent of 5.9 million kg of dangerous toxic pollutants are released within a 15 mile radius of the Aamjiwnaang Territories .
  • – More than 500 spills and leaks occurred in Chemical Valley between 2014 and 2015.
  • – Chemical Valley and all its inhabitants suffer the highest rate of hospitalization in all of Ontario.

The Aamjiwnaang  Environmental  Committee, created in 2002 to give a voice and organize the community to take action into their own hands, was started by Ron Plaine and Ada Lockridge. Ever since the two have been lobbying the Ontario Government to co-fund an independent study.

Ten years of lies, deceit and coverups — including instances like the more than 500 Ministry of Environment incident reports detailing chemical leaks in 2014/15, which included a Benzene leak that should have triggered alarms, and a valve that was left open for more than three months, venting Hydrocarbons. These incident reports were all suppressed and hidden from the public.

Our Government’s response to this serious health crisis has been nothing but silence for the last 10 years, but because of recent events and disasters, the Liberal Government feels pressure to do something. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne recently said, “It has become obvious that the Ontario Government needs to come up with a solution, that serves both interests. The people of  Aamjiwnaang and the Industry that also resides and provides funding for.”

With absolute carelessness and disregard, the 60 or so industries in Aamjiwnaang operate with little to no repercussions from the Ontario Government. Besides Wynne’s latest remarks, its been a 10 year struggle to obtain any information or funding for Chemical Valley. So it’s clear Aamjiwnaang is just taking this as another empty promise from a politician with an agenda, especially when she has no clear plan, no start time for this study and an ‘indefinite’ period of time before the funding will come in, which in politicians terms could also mean never.

It’s fallen onto the backs of the community itself. I firmly believe that if it were not for the Environmental Committee, the little progress that has been made would not have occurred. People organizing seems to be the solution nowadays, more often than not. No matter the struggle. If you are the in the way of Industry, organizing with others within the community and creating committees, you must stick together and formulate committees and plan for yourselves because Government will always side with corporations and industries.

I see it over and over with my organizing. It’s a beautiful thing when you get a group of people together, who have one common cause. People who might never usually associate, might not even like each other. But the common cause is where the seed lies that sprouts and brings communities together.

I want to end this section off with a short poem that I found during my research. Christine Rogers created it when her children became old enough to understand the dire situation of the Community. It literally sums up my article in a few short, but powerful words. It goes like this :


The more clouds in the sky — the more people die

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1 Comment

  1. This was a great eye opening article. It’s quite sad that the population of Chemical Valley have to suffer those health threats. Lets hope that the Aamjiwnaang Environmental Committee and the community continue to defend their right and get to live in a safer environment and I hope the situation has improved since 2017.

    Cheers for the beautiful closing and the poem! That sure did put a smile on my face!

    Looking forward to reading more of your articles

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