By Dr. Elaine MacDonald, Senior Staff Scientist
and Kaitlyn Mitchell, Staff Lawyer

The Ontario government announced on Tuesday plans to build a power plant near a city with the worst air quality in Canada — Sarnia.

The background
Last fall, Ontario cancelled the construction of a massive natural gas fired power plant, which was originally proposed to be built in Mississauga, amid strong opposition from local residents. The residents argued that emissions from the plant would reduce air quality and harm the health and well-being of their community. This Tuesday, we learned that Ontario had revived the project, moving it near a place already overburdened with excessive pollution (Read the article from the Sarnia Observer).

So if the plant wasn’t okay for Mississauga, why does the government think it is fine for it to pollute the Sarnia-Lambton area?

Sarnia is home to Chemical Valley, an area with a notorious concentration of petrochemical and energy industrial facilities that release harmful pollutants. Our 2007 study showed that Chemical Valley releases more toxic air pollutants than any other community in Ontario. That pollution is known to increase the risk of reproductive and development health effects, respiratory illnesses and cancer.

Populations such as poor and First Nations communities are often exposed to more pollution. Often, these communities lack the resources necessary to protect their air, water and land from environmentally harmful industrial activities. We believe that every Canadian, regardless of where they live or how much they earn, needs government to consider the harm to their health when approving pollution or pollution-producing power plants.

Ecojustice is on the case
Chemical Valley is also where Ecojustice is representing two members of Aamjiwnaang First Nation, Ada Lockridge and Ron Plain, as they fight to protect their families and community from the effects of air pollution (Learn more about our case). Aamjiwnaang is located in the heart of Chemical Valley. In 2005, a study showed a severely skewed sex ratio, whereby in certain years two girls were being born for every boy. Members of the community have also expressed concerns about high rates of asthma and other diseases.

The proposed gas fired power plant is to be built on the grounds of the soon-to-be-shuttered Lambton coal-fired power generating station. The Lambton coal-fired plant has been scheduled for total shut down. That was part of a commitment the Ontario government made five years ago to phase out coal — a hard-won victory that will help improve air quality in Sarnia. But constructing a massive polluting gas fired power plant will eat away at some of that gained ground, putting the goal of cleaning up Sarnia’s air and protecting human health even further off.

What should happen next
Before the plant gets built, the government should assess the cumulative effects of the proposed plant and, in particular, if this additional pollution will worsen air quality. The people of Mississauga were able to convince the government to complete a similar study. We believe the people of Aamjiwnaang and Sarnia deserve no less.