Aamjiwnaang declares a state of emergency as benzene levels soar

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Aamjiwnaang First Nation has declared a local state of emergency as air quality monitoring station register benzene levels even higher than last week.

April 16, a number of members of the community sought treatment after suffering from nausea and headaches when the air quality monitors near the community’s administration office registered 115 parts per billion of benzene. At noon today, the monitors near the sports centre register 191 parts per billion.

In a notification on social media, Chief Chris Plain said the local state of emergency was made on the recommendation of the Aamjiwnaang Emergency Control Group “due to the ongoing and excessive discharge of the chemical compound benzene from INEOS Styrolutions.”

Aamjiwnaang Councillor Janelle Nahmabin told The Independent Monday elevated benzene levels have been a concern for two years now. The Ministry of Environment, Parks and Conservation had issued three orders to the company to deal with the issues.

April 16, the benzene levels in the air was so high, people close to the plant – particularly in and around the band administration office – became ill.

Chief Plain and his council met with the Minister of the Environment who said the MECP had officers on site and were pressing the company to fix the problem. Three extra air monitoring systems were brought in as well.

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.

The same day, MECP officials said 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.

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 said 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.

And while Davidson said the MECP was “encouraged” the company was taking the issue seriously, Thursday, the levels of benzene in the air soared to 191.5 parts per billion at noon, prompting the state of emergency.

Plain told community members “do not be alarmed…an emergency is defined as a situation or impending situation that by it’s nature or magnitude affects the health, safety, welfare and property of a community and requires a prompt, controlled and coordinated response by one or more agencies and that is beyond the normal day-today capabilities of a community,” Chief Plain’s statement said.

“If you and your family are feeling unsafe in your home, please contact Ashley Jackson at 519-328-6653 and she will help make further accommodations for you.”

He added the state of emergency was declared to “ensure we have adequate resources at our disposal in the event further action is required.”

He added “We knew that an immediate shutdown could result in elevated readings, likely the spikes we are currently experiencing. INEOS, after a shutting down their facility, have agreed to submit their plan of action to the Ministry responsible for the environment (Friday).”