On February 13, members of Aamjiwnaang First Nation and allies gathered outside the Sarnia Courthouse to support an initial hearing against Shell Canada. At 2 p.m. on January 11, 2013, one of Shell’s refineries in Sarnia leaked sour water containing mercaptan, hydrogen sulfide, and benzene from their flare system, directly impacting Aamjiwnaang Daycare. Several children were rushed to the hospital with symptoms of benzene poisoning and many community members reported symptoms such as headaches, nausea and dizziness. While community members noticed the smell and symptoms quickly, Shell and the Ministry of the Environment were slow to inform the community officially. Shell has been charged under the Environmental Protection Act with causing adverse effects.
The court case has now been dismissed until April 10, 2015. While insisting that “nothing could make up for putting the health of our families at risk,” members of Aamjiwnaang First Nation are asking that any fines charged to Shell be directed to the community itself rather than the Ministry of Environment. Aamjiwnaang residents hope to implement their own monitoring systems to ensure that they are aware of spills as quickly as possible.
Aamjiwnaang First Nation is surrounded by more than 60 petro-chemical facilities, earning the area its nickname of “Chemical Valley.” Since the 1940s, industrial facilities have been built up around Aamjiwnaang First Nation in a blatant exercise in environmental racism. The average life expectancy in the community is only 55 years of age and 40 per cent of band members require an inhaler. The petrochemical industry has numerous adverse health effects on the community, including increased risk of cancer, increased risk of miscarriage, and an abnormal female-male birth rate of 2:1.
The Council of Canadians stands in solidarity with Aamjiwnaang First Nation.
To learn more about the planned rally outside the courthouse on April 10, please see the Facebook event.