INEOS plan for benzene in sewer due Friday

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Heather Wright/The Independent

INEOS Styrolutions has been ordered to create a plan to eliminate the discharge of benzene into its waste water by the end of the week.

That from the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks.

The company has been under the microscope since April 16, when members of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation started becoming ill.

The employees of Aamjiwnaang First Nation, directly across the street from the plant, were becoming nauseous and had headaches. Community activist Ada Lockridge notified administration the benzene levels were 22 times higher than the allowable limits. 

That prompted the band to close the buildings and send workers home. They remain closed and administrators warned parents children shouldn’t be playing on the playground and ball diamond there.

“The level of benzene being reported within Aamjiwnaang’s monitoring stations continually exceeds regulated standards and, more alarming, appears to be increasing,” said Chief Chris Plain in a statement April 17.

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

And while Khanjin said the MECP was working with Styrolutions, it is now clear they were issuing new orders in the wake of the high benzene levels which sickened residents.

The order which gives Styrolutions until Friday to come up with a plan to stop the discharge of benzene into the sewer system is one of three issued by the MECP according to spokesperson Lindsey Davidson. 

In an email to The Independent, Davidson says the company must also “investigate other sources of benzene emissions and take action to prevent, decrease and eliminate the discharge that will include timelines for implementing those actions and provide a written plan by May 17.”

It’s also required to come up with “procedures to notify the public when benzene concentrations in air exceed defined thresholds by May 3,” although Davidson doesn’t say what those defined thresholds are.

That’s one of the big problems according to Aamjiwnaang First Nations Councillor and Chair of the band’s environment committee, Janelle Nahmabin. 

Nahmabin tells The Independent Styrolutions, like other petrochemical giants, doesn’t have to follow the Ontario standards for benzene emissions. The MECP gave the company an exception to the standard, allowing it to emit more benzene if necessary.

But during the April 16th event, the company was emitting 115 parts per billion of benzene – far above that exceptional standard.

Nahmabin says Aamjiwnaang has been pushing the Ministry of the Environment for two years to get INEOS to deal with the elevated benzene levels. 

She says she and the band council are considering legal action because of the lack of action.

The MECP says it has also positioned three more air monitors in the area as it tries to get a handle of what is being released.

Nahmabin says Aamjiwnaang will now have daily updates from the ministry on what those monitors are picking up. 

And they’ll be getting daily updates on the company’s plan to fix the issue.

“Moving forward we cannot just rely on the ministry to have our back. 

“We have to be equal at the table as far as regulations. We want to be informed in the whole entire process,” says Nahmabin. 

“We’re not allowing the ministry to speak on our behalf because it is evident because even with the orders being issued, it appears the ministry doesn’t feel the same way as Aamjiwnaang does about protecting ourselves.”

Styrolution issued a statement Saturday saying it had temporarily closed down the plant for maintenance and to address a mechanical issue. It did not clarify what that was.

Tuesday, the company issued an alert that it had closed part of the road leading to the plant for sewer work.

Davidson says the ministry is “encouraged to see the company taking this matter seriously and will continue working with Aamjiwnaang First Nation to prioritize the health and safety of all residents.”

While Nahmabin and members of her council are dealing with the ongoing issue, she is in Ottawa for the fourth round of United Nations plastic treaty negotiations.

The Aamjiwnaang First Nation is not part of the discussions even though Styrolutions – a plastics producer – is emitting benzene, harming her community.

“This is just really ridiculous and so inappropriate that we are not included in these conversations. We are just viewed as observers and not official delegates to be able to speak to any of the outcomes.”

Nahmabin says EcoJustice and the Society of Native Nations have been helping to make their story known.

And Tuesday, Nahmabin and others were slated to meet with the federal environment minister to voice their concerns.