wind usually blows west from Port Huron into Sarnia, it shifts
depending on weather patterns, said Cory Behnke, a meteorologist at the
National Weather Service in Oakland County's White Lake Township.
With a wind that shifts and blows into Port Huron from Sarnia come toxins, environmentalists say.
Valley pollution affects people on both sides of the St. Clair River,
said Ron Plain, a member of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation. Americans
should wake up and take notice of the documented health problems at the
reserve, Plain said, because they, too, could face the same problems.
United Nations told me this is not a transboundary issue," said Plain,
who, after years of advocacy, started working for the environmental
justice group Environmental Defence and travels to share stories from
the reserve. "The UN is saying to me, (the pollution) goes up into the
air, and it stops at the Canadian border."
Plain leads guests on
what have come to be known as "toxic tours" of the reserve, which is
surrounded by what amounts to 40% of Canada's petrochemical industry
and other chemical and polymer plants.
His guests have included journalists from The London Free Pressin London, Ontario, French science magazines, international filmmakers and National Geographic, whose staff called the region "the most polluted spot in North America."
The people of the Aamjiwnaang reserve have been living in the shadow of
Chemical Valley since the 1960s, when shady land deals occurred between
Canada's federal government and buyers who sold the land to industry,
several decades, the noise, air and water pollution of the plants
seemed a minor inconvenience. But about four years ago, the people of
the reserve realized their health problems - ranging from high rates of
cancer to miscarriages and skewed birth ratios - were not normal.
years of noticing health effects that weren't isolated to a select few,
the people of the reserve, population 850, are becoming more vocal
about what they believe is a connection between Chemical Valley's
industry and their health.
On Oct. 4, Ecojustice of Canada
published an investigative report detailing the massive toxic emissions
in the Sarnia area. The study found there are 62 large industrial
facilities within 25 kilometers - about 16 miles - of the Sarnia and
the Aamjiwnaang First Nation reserve. Of those, 16 are on the American
side of the border.
Chemical Valley and its surroundings rank as the most polluted spot in Ontario, according to the study.
to Canada's National Pollutant Release Inventory and the U.S. Toxic
Release Inventory, the facilities produce 134,000 tons of substances in
three categories: Air contaminants, toxic pollutants and greenhouse
The Ecojustice study gained attention from media outlets
in the United States and Canada, but it's not the first investigation
to shout an alarm.
In August 2005, the study "Declining Sex Ratio in a First Nation Community," was published in the environmental health journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
study, which was conducted by Aamjiwnaang reserve members, scientists
from the University of Ottawa and employees of the Occupational Health
Clinic for Ontario Workers, showed that from the early '90s to 2003,
fewer and fewer male babies were being born on the reserve.
steadiest decline in male births occurred between 1999 and 2003. The
average birth ratio in recent years is 2 to 1, girls to boys.
highly unusual in any community, scientists say. The typical percentage
of boy births versus girl births worldwide is 51% to 49%, according to
The CIA World Factbook.
Cause and effect
The release of the birth data caused reserve members to call for a
community health study, said Vicki Ware, health and environment
representative for the Aamjiwnaang Band Council.
Brophy, executive director of the health clinic for Ontario workers in
Sarnia, said although researchers haven't determined a direct
connection between health problems and the substances emitted from
Chemical Valley plants, such as toluene, benzene, mercury and dioxins,
that doesn't mean a study couldn't demonstrate a link.
haven't been able to establish a cause-and-effect relationship. Even
the birth ratio doesn't tell us that," Brophy said. "But I think (with)
the cumulative evidence ... there's a lot of concern about the
potential health effects."
Ware said the Aamjiwnaang health
office is determining the feasibility of doing a widespread community
health study. They're trying to learn if community members would
undergo tests on their urine, blood and hair.
Ada Lockridge, an
Aamjiwnaang resident who co-authored the study on birth ratios, said
community members want the government to create tougher laws that would
regulate the amount of emissions allowed in a community, rather than
just ensuring individual companies do not exceed pollution levels.
says they follow government guidelines," Lockridge said. "Our
government has to tighten up and make them do something about it."
Chief Chris Plain said they'll lobby the federal and provincial
government to enforce existing laws and change the environmental
"We want the cumulative effects taken into account when exceedance levels are issued," he said.
The Sarnia Lambton Environmental Association represents 20 companies in the area and does air and water testing.
Dean Edwardson, general manager of the association, said area industry would help pay for a study of area health issues.
want an open and transparent process," he said. "We want something that
is scientifically valid, peer reviewed and is meaningful."
said data released in September from the County of Lambton Community
Health Services Department shows that the birth ratios of the
Sarnia-Lambton area are similar to those for the rest of Ontario.
the association tests the air quality with eight air analyzers and a
river water analyzer, the testing is not comprehensive enough, Plain,
the activist from Aamjiwnaang, said.
The U.S. group Global
Community Monitor, which works all over the world on environmental
justice campaigns, visited the reserve this spring to begin an
air-monitoring project. The people of the reserve were taught how to
use simple instruments to measure air quality and what chemicals are in
Denny Larson, executive director of the group, led
workshops at Aamjiwnaang in May. He has traveled the globe teaching
local residents how to fight pollution in their backyards, and said he
was astounded by his visit to Sarnia and Chemical Valley.
this work in 19 countries and work in some very polluted places in the
United States," he said. "I have to say when I got the toxic tour in
Sarnia, we were pretty shocked. Rarely have we seen such a high
concentration of the variety of chemical facilities and petrochemical
refineries in a small area. With the special ecosystem of the lake and
the river and the farming going on all around it. ... It's an
incredible juxtaposition that slaps you in the face."
Canadian environmental laws are not nearly as strict as U.S.
environmental laws and that could have influenced much of Chemical
Valley's industry to move to Sarnia instead of Port Huron.
residents, such as Tina Galassi who lives on Military Street in Port
Huron, said they're concerned about the potential health effects from
"I'm really worried about it," she said.
"Sometimes when the wind switches (from) the east, we have to actually
shut our windows the smells are so bad."
Galassi said she had three miscarriages after having four healthy children, which she thought was abnormal.
"They say don't eat the fish, but hello - don't breath the air," she said.
Hall of Corunna, who works in Sarnia, said politicians are reluctant to
create tougher environmental laws for industries that pay good wages to
many community members.
"I think everybody's got (worries about
pollution) in the back of their mind," he said. "Because (the plants)
employ people at above-average wages, there's a direct economic benefit
to high-paying jobs. There's not enough political will to change it."