Sarnia plant temporarily shutting down after benzene releases

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Five days after members of the Aamjiwnaag First Nation became ill after high readings of benzene in the air, the INEOS Styrolutions plant is shutting down temporarily.

The company issued a brief statement Saturday afternoon.

“At INEOS Styrolution, ensuring the health and safety of our employees and community is paramount.

“We are temporarily shutting down our facility located in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, to perform maintenance and address a mechanical issue. We will resume operations once addressed.”

The news release did not say what mechanical issue the company is repairing, how long it will take the company to shutdown the plant, nor how long it might remain closed. It’s not immediately clear either if the shutdown was voluntary or ordered by the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.

Tuesday, the employees of Aamjiwnaag First Nation, which is directly across the street from the plant, became 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 until Friday with the administrators warning parents children shouldn’t be at 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. He also called for the immediate shutdown of the plant.