There are still few details surrounding the province’s commitment to funding a study into the impacts of industrial emissions on local health, officials say.
Dean Edwardson, of the industry-funded Sarnia-Lambton Environmental Association (SLEA), and Sarnia councillor Anne Marie Gillis spoke on the subject at the January ‘Green Drinks’ event held in downtown Sarnia recently.
The pair took questions while attempting to provide some context for what a health study would look like and try to achieve, but both admitted that, short of a promise for funding, not much else is known regarding timeline or scope.
A renewed commitment for a study was announced by Environment Minister Chris Ballard in the fall, after an original committee — formed in 2008 to determine what impact environmental pollution has had on the local population — was forced to fold due to lack of government support.
Gillis, who chaired the original committee, said they wanted to find out if there was a risk to workers and nearby residents due to exposure, if there was a higher rate of cancer or respiratory illness, and if there were anomalies noted in male to female birth ratios.
The board had broad input from municipalities, First Nations, business, labour, industry and health officials.
At the time, the SLEA offered $1.4 million toward the $4.8 million needed to complete phase 3 of the study.
But Gillis said things came unraveled when it was time for the federal and provincial governments to contribute their share.
“We kept hearing the same thing…‘here’s a grant application,’” she said.
But interest was rekindled in October – this time from the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change – after an investigative report by Global News, the Toronto Star, National Observer and several Canadian journalism schools raised serious concerns about government oversight of industry.
Although Gillis also noted some inconsistencies and sensationalism within the report, she wishes it came “years earlier.” She also praised Global News reporter Carolyn Jarvis for maintaining interest in the situation months after the report aired.
The Toronto-based journalist has returned for follow-ups this winter, and has kept tabs on industry via social media.
“Good or bad,” Gillis said, “she’s carrying the banner.”
Lambton’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Sundit Ranade, joined members of the former health study board and Aamjiwnaang First Nation members for a meeting with Ballard on Nov. 29, but noted that no hard details were produced.