INEOS faced orders before over high benzene emissions; ministry onsite after emissions sicken Aamjiwnaag residents

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Province “made clear our government’s expectation that they quickly identify and reduce these emissions”

There is word today that INEOS Styrolutions has been ordered in the past to deal with its high benzene emissions.

Tuesday, the employees of Aamjiwnaag First Nation, which is directly across the street from the plant, were becoming nauseous and had headaches. Community activist Ada Lockridge notified the band that the air monitoring systems near the band office showed emissions of benzene were 22 times higher than the regulations allow. That prompted the band to close the buildings and send workers home. They remained working from home Wednesday and administrators warned parents children shouldn’t be playing on the playground and ball diamond there.

“The cause of these symptoms is directly related to the continuing and excessive levels of benzene emissions coming from the INEOS facility located directly across from the Band office, environmental office and the community playground,” Chris Plain said in a news release issued on Twitter Wednesday.

Plain says despite continuous monitoring by both the provincial and federal government “the level of benzene being reported within Aamjiwnaang’s monitoring stations continually exceeds regulated standards and, more alarming, appears to be increasing.”

He called for a complete shutdown of the plant.

Plain met with Environment Minister Andrea Khanjin about the issue Thursday. She also talked to representatives of INEOS and, according to a statement issued by her office today “made clear our government’s expectation that they quickly identify and reduce these emissions.”

Environmental Compliance Officers are at at the plant which produces produces styrene monomer, a raw material for a number of products including medical devices, automotive components and toys, and have been “for several days now” according to the statement.

“We continue to ensure compliance with all past orders made to INEOS, including requirements to install emissions control equipment and undertake additional air monitoring,” the minister’s statement said.

Information on when those orders were issued was not immediately available.

In his statement Tuesday, Plain expressed frustration the benzene emissions continue.

“The dangerous environment in which community members are forced to live and work are a direct result of colonialism and the continued oppression of Aamjiwnaag as a nation,” the letter continued adding there have been a number of studies highlighting the ongoing problem.

“Immediate reforms are needed to address the systemic racism which pervades the environmental protection regime and allows industry proponents such as INEOS to continue with ‘business as usual.’”

Khanjin added; “It is also clear that more needs to be done.” She says the province is working on updating the “benzene technical standards for petrochemical and petroleum facilities and strengthening the regulatons “so that more financial penalties can be imposed.”

In an emailed statement, David MacDonald, INEOS’s Operations Manager/Interim Site Director, said “ensuring the health and safety of our community is paramount. We uphold stringent environmental and safety protocols to meet all regulated standards set by the MECP.

“We understand the concerns raised by our neighbours, including the Aamjiwnaang First Nation community, regarding benzene readings from a local station. We are carefully reviewing this data and any concerns. The site works closely with the MECP to ensure we stay within the prescribed emissions limits.”

MacDonald says the company is committed to “open dialogue” and “ongoing discussions” with Aamjiwnaag’s leaders.

It’s not clear how many people became ill Tuesday as the benzene levels soared. However some did go to the hospital with nausea, dizziness and headaches.

Benzene is a known carcinogen which causes cancer.

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