Aamjiwnaang workers home for third day amid benzene emmissions

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Environmental Monitors at the Aamjiwnaang First Nation Tuesday.

Health Centre now collecting info on who became sick after Tuesday’s release

The administration offices for the Aamjiwnaag First Nation are closed for a third day and residents are being reminded to keep windows closed and avoid the baseball diamond and playground areas after high levels of benzene made residents and band employees ill.

Tuesday, workers began feeling nauseous and having headaches just before lunch. Readings at air monitoring stations were as high as 116 parts per billion. About two parts per billion is considered acceptable. Benzene is known to cause cancer.

The benzene is coming from the ENOS Styrolutions plant directly across the street from the First Nation’s office on Tasmoo Ave. Aamjiwnaang Chief Chris Plain called on the province and feds to shut the plant down, saying the high benzene levels are a chronic problem.

Plain talked to the Minister of the Environment twice Thursday about the issue. Minister Andrea Khanjin said Environmental Compliance Officers were on site at INEOS. The province’s mobile air monitoring unit is also in the area and an order was issued on Thursday requiring INEOS to take immediate action to address benzene sources and emissions at their facility.

The NDP’s Indigenous Relations Critic Sol Mamakwa raised the issue in the Ontario Legislature Thursday. He, like Chief Plain, called on the province to shut the plant down. “This is a major health and safety issue. Wellness in the first nation is at an all time low. The ministry continues to ignore the concerns. How many more people have to get sick before Ontario sits down and takes action.”

Meantime, the Aamjiwnaang Health Centre is now asking residents who were ill Tuesday and Wednesday to contact them and fill out a form. Band employees will also be contacted by administration to learn about workplace exposures.

It’s not clear how many people were ill from Wednesday’s benzene levels however The Independent talked to community members who went to the hospital who were nauseous and had headaches. They were sent home after six hours when their symptoms did not increase.

The Aamjiwnaang Health Centre notice to residents on symptom reporting also says the band is “looking into the feasibility of benzene testing and surveillance on a community level.”