Province must consider the cumulative effects of pollution in toxic “hot-spots”
For many years, Ecojustice scientists and lawyers have been helping Ron Plain and Ada Lockridge fight to protect their Aamjiwnaang First Nation community from air pollution. Ron and Ada live in Sarnia, Ontario, in the middle of Chemical Valley – a cluster of major oil refineries and petro-chemical plants that house 40 per cent of Canada’s chemical industry.
Ron and Ada are breathing in air polluted by each and every facility in the area. But when the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) decides whether to approve new pollution from any one facility, it only considers the individual emissions of that one facility. The result? The Ministry ignores the cumulative environmental and health effects of pollution from many facilities in one area.
That’s why Sarnia, Ontario has some of the most polluted air in the province.
This month, Dianne Saxe, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, decried the impact of air pollution on the health of the Aamjiwnaang community as “shameful.” Sadly, this isn’t the first time the Commissioner has had to do so.
In 2009, we helped Ron and Ada file a formal request asking the Ontario government to start considering the cumulative impacts of air pollution when it approves a new pollution source at a facility, not just the impacts from that one facility. Despite indications that meaningful progress was finally being made, the Ministry still has not completed its promised review. The Environmental Commissioner condemned this delay as “disrespectful of the public’s environmental rights.”
It is long past time for the Ministry to right the injustice suffered by those living in air pollution hot spots in this province. The Ministry has now promised to complete its review of Ron and Ada’s request by early 2017. Although a seven year delay in completing a promised review is unacceptable, we’re hopeful the review will change the way the Ministry approves pollution. Further, there should be real, on-the-ground improvements for Ron and Ada.
To do that, the Ministry needs to do the following:
Current assessment failures are hurting communities
The Ministry’s current approach treats every community as if it has only one polluter, when the reality is very different. The Ministry’s failure to assess cumulative effects when it approves air pollution means that communities close to a cluster of polluters get a different standard of air quality protection than communities with one or no polluters. Evidence shows that the burden of negative health impacts caused by this double standard is disproportionately shouldered by Indigenous and other socially vulnerable communities.
It is long past time for the Ministry to right this injustice. The Ministry needs to ditch its antiquated assessment structure, finish its review and breathe new life into an approval system that protects our communities.