Sarnia’s Demon: Chemical Valley A Look At The Devastation
Sarnia, Ontario is a place with much history behind it. Almost everywhere you look there it is staring you in the face: History! However amongst all of that beautiful history hides a huge problem, that problem is pollution! This is no tiny problem either, this is massive. The problem stems from a place where many chemical companies decided to build their own neighborhood long before even Sarnia began. This place is called Chemical Valley.
Chemical Valley is home to over sixty refineries and plants and is responsible for over forty percent of Canada’s overall pollution. It is beginning to drastically affect not only the environment but the people that inhabit Sarnia and the native reserve in the middle of it, Aamjiwnaang. This will go into the details of how these innocent people suffer so the chemical companies can line their pockets with money, and what common everyday people can do to fight the pollution.
Aerial view of Chemical Valley for Fred Oliver of Kelgor. Pilot Jason Brent of Huron Flight Centre. Behind it the St Clair River.
Pollutants in the Environment
One of the major impacts that the many chemical plants have on both humans and the natural environment is carbon emissions. The surrounding smoke stacks constantly emit an enormously high volume of particulate matter (the same as the pollutants emitted by aerosol cans). This has a great effect on the inhabitants of the surrounding areas, causing respiratory disease, high mesothelioma rate, and asbestos rate which leads to extremely high risk of cancer. Additionally, the high volume of particulate matter has a grave impact on our ozone layer, especially in the immediate area of the emissions. This, in turn, causes climate change. However, fortunately for the people of the surrounding area, the neighboring Lake Huron and the location of the city provides relief from the changes in climate.
Another great impact Chemical Valley has on our environment is the pollution of the St Clair River that surrounds it. This is primarily due to the chemical spills in the lake and the operating state of the SWPCC (Sarnia Water Pollution Control Center). In 2008, Sarnia city council decided it was time they replace their pumps and filters. However, in 2010, the idea was overruled by a study that concluded that the organic and inorganic contaminants in the water were not over half and that the SWPCC was operating how it should.
A sign warns the public of toxic pollution in the water due to the chemical plants.
The Maturity of the Chemical Plants is Lacking and so is the Safety
Additionally, a lot of the negative impacts on the surrounding environment stem from the lack of ownership the companies take when they spill or leak a chemical. Amongst many examples of this, one stands out in particular. On January 11th 2013 one of Shell’s refineries leaked a compound including mercaptan, hydrogen sulfide, and benzene. These chemicals were used to make chemical weapons in World War One. They affected the children at a nearby Aamjiwnaang daycare, as the warning from Shell was not given until long after the leak. This caused many children not to be diagnosed properly with benzene poisoning. Additionally, many of the other community members of Aamjiwnaang reported nausea and dizziness. Later Shell was fined 500,000 dollars for failure to provide the community with a timely warning.
Chemical Valley is not only creating permanent damage to the environment but to the very genetics of the humans that surround it. Studies conducted over the years have shown the life expectancy for people that live in and around it is approximately 55 years, and over 40 percent of people require an inhaler. Additionally, all the pollutants weigh into the 2:1 female over male birth rate, a rate never recorded in human genetics before, only in animals living in extremely polluted habitats. The genetic anomalies caused by Chemical Valley don’t end there. Sarnians and members of Aamjiwnaang are found to be at increased risk for miscarriages, stillbirths, and cancer.
View of the chemical valley in Sarnia ON from the ST Clair River.
”Not Just The Environment, The Way We Live Too!”
However, Chemical Valley additionally impacts the way people live. For example, every young child that lives on Aamjiwnaang is taught the warning signs of a chemical leak at five years old; this is almost a similar concept to children being taught landmine awareness in 3rd world countries. Additionally, sometimes the air quality is so bad that people are advised to stay indoors. In turn, it keeps people away from work, school, and other daily functions.
Many groups, committees, and protests have formed over the years, their actions providing moderate to little relief to the massive negative effects of Chemical Valley. One of the most notable groups is the Aamjiwnaang Environmental Committee which began its fight back in 2002: This committee is responsible for the majority of the fight back opposing Sarnia’s valley of chemicals. One of the group’s greater victories was the halting of one of the largest ethanol plants in Canada. In response to the group’s consistent protests, a desulphurization plant was built instead. Another great action by this group was the construction of the Centennial Monument. However, it was later discovered that the park was also highly polluted with asbestos caused by none other than the chemical valley that lines the horizon. The park was later fenced off with the only thing that offered an explanation of the situation to any of the park’s visitors being a metal sign where a Sarnian had written in cursive the words “This is a monument for all the people that died, suffered and continue to suffer from the toxic chemicals of Chemical Valley. It is behind a fence because our government found out that this park is also polluted by the same toxic chemicals“.
The beauty and horror of the illuminated smokestacks that constantly emit the toxic chemicals that plague Sarnia.
Over the years Chemical Valley has grown massively, and with it the equally massive problem of the pollution it brings. Scientists state that it will take decades of reparation to fix the damage that we as people have done to our ecosystem, with these chemical plants that produce the items and luxuries we use every day – and that’s if the changes are immediate. Only time will tell if we are able to fix the damage we have done. However, if action is not taken soon, there will be no possible action to take.
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