Keep Sarnia plastic plant shut until First Nation says it’s safe: environment groups

International environmental advocates are calling for a petrochemical plant in southern Ontario to remain closed, in light of reports about a benzene leak that continues to affect a neighbouring First Nation community.

A letter signed by more than 100 organizations around the world calls on Canada’s environment minister to take immediate steps to ensure the plant remains closed until the Aamjiwnaang First Nation deems it safe to reopen.

The Ineos Styrolution plant in Sarnia, which produces styrene for use in making plastic, was shuttered over the weekend after employees and community members began complaining of dizziness, nausea and headaches.

“A continued pattern of leaks, lack of compliance and inadequate provincial enforcement and regulation over a period of many years indicates that a long-term shutdown of the facility is required unless Ineos Styrolution can prove its ability and willingness to meet health-based air quality standards and Aamjiwnaang’s demands,” the letter states.

“Recurrent high exposure to benzene puts residents at elevated cancer risks and denies Aamjiwnaang First Nation their ability to engage their inherent and constitutionally protected Aboriginal and Treaty rights.”

Read More: 

Ontario government needs to resolve health crisis at Aamjiwnaang First Nation: Environmental watchdog 

The Frankfurt-based company described the shutdown in one media report as temporary, calling the health and safety of staff and the community “paramount” and saying the plant would reopen once a “mechanical issue” is addressed.

Ontario’s environment ministry issued a compliance order to Ineos Styrolution requiring it to develop a plan to reduce benzene discharge, notify residents if chemical concentrations exceed a certain level and take action to address the problem by mid-May.

High levels of benzene have thrown the community into peril, with no end in sight, said Janelle Nahmabin, an elected councillor for the First Nation.

The call for action comes as international negotiators are gathered in Ottawa to work on a global agreement that would seek to end plastic waste by 2040.

The environmental advocacy groups said the situation puts Canada’s reputation and credibility as a leader in the fight against plastics pollution at risk, both domestically and internationally.

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Contribute Button