The Sarnia Observer - Ontario, Canada
Ada Lockridge, left, and Naomi Oliver take a practice air sample at the Aamjiwnaang First Nation reserve.
Photo: LINDSEY COAD
By LINDSEY COAD The Observer
Local News - Monday, May 14, 2007 Updated @ 9:47:47 PM
Federal and provincial governments aren't protecting the air of Aamjiwnaang First Nation residents, an environmental watchdog says.
"There's some really nasty stuff coming out of those stacks. This is what we call a toxic cocktail area. We could even smell vinyl chloride when we were driving by," said Ruth Breech, program director of Global Community Monitor (GCM).
This weekend, the non-profit organization showed 13 Aamjiwnaang residents how to track pollution in the case of an accident, spill or leak from the petrochemical plants that virtually surround the reserve.
"This is a serious public health crisis here. There's no doubt in my
mind, given the proximity of the plants to the reserve," Breech said.
Should a crisis occur, the community hopes its findings will push the government to police industry and impose stricter emission limits.
It's a request the community has made since a health survey revealed female births outnumbered males by a two-to-one ratio between 1998 and 2003.
The survey also found higher than normal rates of miscarriages,
infertility, still births, birth defects and childhood learning disabilities.
GCM showed residents how to take a three-minute air sample using a five- gallon plastic bucket device, approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The device is capable of detecting up to 88 toxic gases from odours in the air.
The bucket device allows the community to take an air sample as soon as an accident occurs, rather than waiting for the Ministry of the Environment to get involved, said Ada Lockridge, chair of the reserve's environment committee.
When taking a sample, residents were advised to log the time, smell, wind direction and any physical reactions such as teary eyes.
The samples will then be sent to a California lab which identifies and tests concentrations of chemicals such as benzene, butadiene, styrene and sulphur.
Results will be analyzed according to internationally recognized
screening levels set by health professionals.
Denny Larson, executive director of Global Community Monitor, said unfortunately, many countries haven't set offsite concentration limits for most toxic chemicals.
He said the buckets can be used to hold companies accountable for
chemicals that escape beyond plant boundaries.
GCM has worked with an Ohio community that successfully convinced Lanxess to voluntarily reduce emissions.
"They started to make some significant improvements in the process as a whole. They reduced their number of accidents and leaks," Breech said.
Environment committee member Naomi Oliver, 28, wants to see that happen here.
Her concern was sparked seven years ago after a major benzene spill. Her four children also have skin and breathing problems, just like many youngsters on the reserve.
"I have small children and they have a right to live and breathe. My kids love to play in the ditch. Now they're not allowed," Oliver said.
GCM has travelled to India, Mexico and Thailand, but Aamjiwnaang is the group's first Canadian stop.
Read more about the Aamjiwnaang First Nation work.