Troy Shantz and George Mathewson
The Ontario government has turned a blind eye to pollution problems at Aamjiwnaang and other Indigenous communities for too long, the province’s Environmental Commissioner says.
“The people of Aamjiwnaang First Nation continue to breathe air that is heavily polluted by the industrial facilities of Chemical Valley in Sarnia, contributing to serious health and environmental problems,” Dianne Saxe said in her annual report last week.
Saxe noted dozens of Ontario First Nation communities do not have access to save drinking water, and at least 36 of them have had drinking water advisories in place for a year or more.
“The conditions faced by these Indigenous communities would not be tolerated elsewhere in Ontario, yet have long been deemed unworthy of priority, effort or expense,” she said.
“After decades of neglect, the province is finally taking some steps, but the pollution that these communities still face is outrageous.”
The Commissioner’s report followed a national expose on the Chemical Valley by Global News, the Toronto Star and a cooperative of other media organizations that looked into industrial releases and raised serious concerns about government oversight of industry.
In response to “Canada’s toxic secret,” the elected leaders of Aamjiwnaang said they are outraged that all levels of government continue to ignore the fact reserve residents are subjected to air polluted with volatile organic compounds, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter.
“The recent documentary proves that continued exposure of Aamjiwnaang First Nation to spills, flaring and benzene compounds are carcinogenic and extremely harmful to our members,” Chief Joanne Rogers and council stated in a release.
Ontario Environment Minister Chris Ballard has said the province is now committed to funding a long-stalled health study into the impact of industrial emissions on the residents of Sarnia-Lambton.
But the reserve, given its proximity to surrounding industrial sites, should be the focus of the study, not the wider community of Sarnia-Lambton, the band says.
“(Government) non-action continues to subject our people to levels of pollution that would be unacceptable and illegal in any other community.”