Indigenous-led lab tracking industry with app, website

The Aamjiwnaang First Nation is largely surrounded by petrochemical companies. Troy Shantz

Troy Shantz

A group of Indigenous researchers have developed a website and smartphone app to help local First Nations residents identify and report harmful emissions from the Chemical Valley.

The Land and the Refinery (www.landandrefinery.org) is a place to share research, archival documents, environmental data, and community knowledge about industry and the land, according to the website.

The University of Toronto project includes a Pollution Reporter smartphone app, which lets users identify chemicals emitted by matching symptoms of exposure, said Aamjiwnaang researcher and co-lead Vanessa Gray.

Users can also report spills, air discharges and flaring to Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.

“There’s just a gap in the communication that’s happening between Aamjiwnaang residents, (Imperial Oil), and the ministry,” the long-time activist said.

“As a community member it’s extremely frustrating… to be exposed to a spill… while this company is making money. We’re just kind of soaking up the chemicals this company is releasing.”

The project focus is currently the Imperial Oil Sarnia refinery but the plan is to include more local industry, she said.

“Basically, Chemical Valley is so (large) we had to start somewhere, so we started with the oldest one.”

Imperial Oil spokesperson Kristina Zimmer said the company had no comment on the project itself, but has been aware of its existence since the launch last fall.

The development team has not contacted imperial, she added.

Gray said the project could benefit other First Nation communities living in close proximity to pollution sources.

“I don’t believe that industries are being honest about how much they’re emitting. We don’t know how bad it is, and the Ministry is not looking at the accumulation of facts of an industry that’s been there for over 100 years.”

The Pollution Reporter is a free app, available for iPhone and Android devices.

An Environment Ministry spokesperson said it has received two reports through the app. The Sarnia Office investigated both.
To report an environmental concern, residents can also call the 24-hour Spills Action Centre at 1-800-268-6060, the ministry said.

The project was developed by the Environmental Data Justice Lab in the Technoscience Research Unit, University of Toronto.

The team includes Gray, professor and Canada Research Chair Michelle Murphy (Métis, Winnipeg), Lab Manager Kristen Bos (urban Métis), and lab members Reena Shadaan, and Ladan Siad.