Area residents concerned about rise in chemical spill calls in Sarnia
There is increasing concern among residents in Sarnia and surrounding areas about the number of calls about chemical releases, spills and fires in the region’s Chemical Valley.
After a string of potentially dangerous incidents over the last few weeks, activists are calling on the province to crack down on petrochemical companies that violate environmental laws.
Ada Lockridge lives on the Aamjiwnaang First Nation and keeps a log of every incident. She says she’s concerned for her community.
“Every time that flare was [up] - you could feel that it wasn't burning properly, the sky was lit up and I just couldn't even make no calls. I just curled up in bed thinking, you know I hope we're all going to be okay. So and you know they minimize everything that goes on.”
Her concerns follow 14 incidents in less than a month from nearby plants. The latest came Tuesday when the Suncor Energy refinery reported a hydrogen leak and fire.
In a statement Kelli Stevens, senior advisor for media relations and issues management at Suncor, said “The number of times we have had to sound the alarm at the Sarnia refinery in the last couple of weeks is very rare, and it's unacceptable. That's why we're doing everything we can to learn from these recent incidents, and rigorous root cause investigations are underway.”
But Lockridge says the responsibility sits with the Ministry of the Environment “They’re the who okay all of this to be here. They’re the ones supposed to be monitoring. How are they monitoring?”
Environment Minister Jim Bradley is vowing to get personally involved.
“Our ministry at the present time is redoubling its vigilance in the area. I'm going to be contacting the company executives myself to express my concern and dismay with what's been happening lately. Those companies have to have a better performance.”
While those living in the shadow of Chemical Valley feel constant fear and worry, for Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley each incident is also a hit to the community's reputation.
He says he's setting up a meeting with industry partners to find out why so many incidents are taking place.
“Each one of these incidents takes away from the image of the new Sarnia that we're trying to develop, as a biofuel centre, as one that's environmentally responsible.”
For Lockridge the concerns are far more personal, “Is it going to be too late for us to actually get out one of these times or what?”
Horwath speaks on concerns
The worries are being expressed a day after NDP Leader Andrea Horwath grilled the Ontario Liberals about the number of spills into the St. Clair River.
Horwath said “Instead of wringing their hands after the spill has occurred, when will this government actually protect the drinking water of Ontarians and work with those affected communities to develop stronger regulations and more effective enforcement, so we don’t have to sail down on these troubled waters again, and again, and again.”
Environment Minister Jim Bradley responded “We do have in the Province of Ontario very strong laws, and if there is a violation of those laws we are prepared to prosecute to the largest extent possible.”