TORONTO—Ecojustice lawyers are heading to court over the Ontario government’s eight year delay in reviewing how it regulates cumulative industrial air pollution.
In 2009, Ecojustice helped Ada Lockridge and Ron Plain of Aamjiwnaang First Nation to secure a promise from Ontario that it would conduct such a review.
“Ada has worked tirelessly for eight years to make the government deliver on its promise to review how it regulates the cumulative air pollution from the numerous facilities in her community. She has taken the government to court and she has tried to work with them. But after eight years, the Ontario government hasn’t delivered on its promise,” said Kaitlyn Mitchell, Ecojustice lawyer.
“Since 2009, two separate Environmental Commissioners, who act as independent environmental ombudspersons in Ontario, have recognized that the review is overdue, and the Ministry’s delay is unreasonable,” said Mitchell.
“Despite decades of work fighting for government accountability and for an end to new air emission approvals, the Aamjiwnaang First Nation still faces a number of unknowns about their past and present exposure to toxic airborne chemicals. They cannot even be sure that the community warning sirens are reliable or that the government will communicate openly and promptly about its environmental findings. Such a situation would be intolerable for any community, but in light of the particular historical context of this case, it is truly shameful,” said then Ontario Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller in a 2013 Annual Report.
Currently, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change regulates industrial facilities by considering emissions from a single facility, rather than the cumulative effects that all the nearby facilities have on air quality.
“People must have the assurance that when insufficient regulations endanger their health, the government will act swiftly. Where communities like Ada’s are concerned, such delays don’t inspire confidence that the regulations are intended to protect them,” said Kaitlyn Mitchell, Ecojustice lawyer.
In 2015, Chemical Valley facilities emitted 55,000 tonnes of air pollution.
“For Ada, this isn’t an academic exercise. Every day the government delays in completing this review is another day that she, as well as her friends and family, are at risk from the poorly regulated levels of air pollution in Aamjiwnaang.”
Ada has, in the past, gone so far as to collect air samples on her own and send them to a U.S. lab for testing. She has also gathered information on the community’s health effects by going door to door.
Community members have self-reported any number of health concerns including miscarriage, asthma and low male birth rates in certain years. Despite that, there have been no comprehensive studies carried out to date to properly assess the health effects of the facilities.
“Clean air is my human right, and industry has to be regulated fairly. Nobody ever gave up our rights to breathe clean air and feel safe in our homes,” said Ada Lockridge. “People need to remember that when everyone goes home from work at the end of the day, we are the people forced to live with the pollution.”