'Chemical Valley' spurs Ont. lawsuit

The environmental group Ecojustice launched a lawsuit against the Ontario Ministry of the Environment Monday targeting the effects of pollution from the Sarnia area's petrochemical industry.

The environmental group Ecojustice launched a lawsuit against the Ontario Ministry of the Environment Monday targeting the effects of pollution from the Sarnia area's petrochemical industry.

Residents of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation joined lawyers at Queen's Park in Toronto to announce the suit. Ecojustice is representing two members of the First Nation — Ada Lockridge and Ron Plain — who allege that the cumulative effect of pollution in the area known as "Chemical Valley" is threatening their health.

A 2007 photo shows a sign for the Aamjiwnaang First Nation Resource Centre located across the road from NOVA Chemicals in Sarnia, Ont. ((Craig Glover/Canadian Press))

The reserve, outside Sarnia, is near a high concentration of petrochemical plants and other industries.

The Application for Judicial Review, filed on behalf of Lockridge and Plain, alleges the  environment ministry issues permits to industry without considering the cumulative effects, violating the pair's charter rights.

Ecojustice says their analysis shows industry in the area releases more dangerous pollutants than any other community in Ontario, and more than the total emissions of Manitoba, New Brunswick, or Saskatchewan. 

Studies have found mothers in the area were giving birth to an unusually high proportion of girls. An investigation of sex ratios on the reserve found that roughly two girls were born for every boy.

Ecojustice says there are also elevated hospital admission rates, along with high rates of asthma and other illnesses.

Local study underway for years

Locals have long wondered whether industry in the area is affecting their health, and Lambton County has been working on a health study for three years. 

Warden Jim Burns said the study is being undertaken to "put facts behind the assumptions and determine if there are effects of living here, find out what they are and what we can do to help rectify those problems."

Burns said it could be years before any hard data is collected, however, since the county needs financial help from the federal and provincial governments to do research.

So far, only a review of scientific articles has been completed.

He said cancer, asthma, and the Aamjiwnaang birth study are all being looked at.