TORONTO — Ecojustice lawyer Kaitlyn Mitchell issued the following statement today about ongoing concerns with Ontario’s chronic failure to address the air quality crisis in Sarnia’s Chemical Valley:
“After eight years of government delay, Ecojustice lawyers helped Aamjiwnaang First Nation community member Ada Lockridge launch a lawsuit aimed at forcing Ontario to review how it regulates the cumulative effects of air pollution in places like Sarnia’s notorious Chemical Valley. Just months after launching the lawsuit, and many years after it first committed to the review, the province announced a draft cumulative effects policy and that it had completed the long-awaited review. In light of this development, we are discontinuing the lawsuit.
“The proposed policy is a direct result of the tireless work of community advocates like Ada Lockridge and Ron Plain, whose efforts are responsible for compelling the government to undertake the review in the first place. Unfortunately, the policy itself is a disappointment. It’s business as usual in Sarnia, and this approach is costing people their lives.
“Ada waited eight and a half years for what amounts to a deficient policy that, without significant improvement, will not address the air pollution crisis in her community.
“In the Sarnia area, the proposal focuses only benzene and fails to consider the myriad of other air contaminants that residents and workers are exposed to on a daily basis. These contaminants, which include sulphur dioxide, benzoapyrene, and particulate matter, are known to pose serious risks to human health, including respiratory and cardiovascular problems, as well as cancers.
“Ontarians should not have to resort to legal action or wait eight and a half years in order for the government to follow through on its promises. This is critical where fundamental human rights, such as the right to breathe clean air, are at stake.”
In May 2009, in response to a request submitted by Ecojustice on behalf of Ada Lockridge and Ron Plain, the Ontario government promised to review how it regulates industrial emissions in communities like Sarnia that are home to multiple major industrial emitters.
When, after more than eight years, that review still had not been completed, Ecojustice lawyers helped Ada Lockridge of Aamjiwnaang First Nation take the government to court for its failure to complete the review in a timely manner.
At present, the Ministry issues air pollution approvals by considering the impact on air quality of the emissions from each facility in isolation, ignoring the cumulative air emissions of others nearby. This is a serious oversight in areas such as Sarnia’s Chemical Valley, which is home to multiple refineries and petrochemical facilities that collectively emitted 55,000 tonnes of air pollution in 2015.