The day that a new website was launched giving local residents real-time air pollution data for the first time, only one area didn’t have good air quality — the Aamjiwnaang First Nation.
The air monitoring station at Aamjiwnaang indicated moderate contaminant levels that approached but were still below the Ambient Air Quality Criteria (AAQC).
Six other monitors in Sarnia and St. Clair Township showed green, indicating the air quality was good.
That’s typical, said Chief Joanne Rogers, one of nearly 1,000 members of a First Nation that’s sandwiched between petrochemical plants.
“We always hear there’s nothing to be concerned about,” she said. “But we are very concerned about what industry is putting in the air.”
Higher provincial standards are helping improve local air quality and the plants have “come a long way,” said Rogers, who also welcomed the new website.
“But we continue to be really concerned about the connection with cancer in our community.”
Visitors to www.cleanairsarniaandarea.com can see contaminant levels from air monitoring stations located at Ferry Dock Hill, Christina Street near the courthouse, Scott Road, LaSalle Line, along River Road near Courtright, Moore Line and at Aamjiwnaang.
To address a lack of monitors in the city’s south end, two temporary units were recently installed by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MECC) behind Clearwater Arena and on Eddings Street near Ontario.
If they reveal air quality there is different than at the other stations, they will likely be made permanent, ministry officials say.
The website launched Feb. 21 at the Aamjiwnaang community centre is a collaboration between the provincial government and the industries that fund SLEA (Sarnia Lambton Environment Association). Together, they paid $100,000 to get the site up and running.
A community advisory panel called Clean Air Sarnia and Area (CASA) spearheaded the initiative to make the air quality information available to the public.
SLEA has monitored Sarnia’s air quality the past 60 years, but this is the first time the public can see the results immediately, said Dean Edwardson, SLEA’s general manager.
The site’s colour coding is user friendly and provides results at a glance. Anyone who wants details can click on the individual monitoring stations and see specific levels and how they compare to provincial standards.
Real-time data and the trends recorded on the site will be critical to a health study local officials have sought for years, said city Coun. Anne Marie Gillis.
She pointed out local studies show 53% of the population prefers to get their information online and predicted the website will get wide use.
“This is a major improvement to airborne environmental information in this community,” she said.
The website is updated hourly and indicates levels of sulphur dioxide, total reduced sulphur (TRS), ozone, fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, benzene, 1,3-butadiene and ethylene.
Aamjiwnaang was grateful to be included in the focus group that provided input during development of the site, Rogers said.
“This gives us more transparency and a tool to hold people accountable,” she said.
“But we still have to work on notifications. Sometimes it is hours before we learn there’s a problem with industry. This is not an alert system.”