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In January of 2013, Shell Canada allegedly spilled “flare liquids”, similar to gasoline, from its refinery in Sarnia. People in a nearby First Nation (often affected by Chemical Valley spills) experienced odours, irritation and illness. After waiting until the end of the two year limitation period, the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change has charged Shell with “discharging, or causing, or permitting a discharge of a contaminant into the natural environment that caused or was likely to have caused an adverse effect, contrary to the Environmental Protection Act.”

Ecojustice describes the serious effects of the Chemical Valley spill on the nearby First Nation:

The Aamjiwnaang First Nation is located just north of the Shell Canada refinery where the accident happened. On the day in question, staff at the local daycare noticed a strong “rotten egg” smell hours before the spill was reported. Children began to complain of red eyes and sore throats. Daycare staff cancelled plans to take the children outside and, despite it being January in Ontario, shut off the heating in the building to avoid drawing in contaminated air. Those protocols are a response to what is called a “shelter-in-place” advisory. Residents of Aamjiwnaang are all too familiar with shelter-in-place advisories, so daycare staff knew what to do even though no such warning had yet been issued.

According to the information provided to Ada [a community member working with Ecojustice] the spill was reported by Shell at 1:50 pm, more than two hours after the daycare staff and other residents began taking action. A shelter-in-place advisory went out, although it did not immediately include Aamjiwnaang.  The emergency sirens used to warn residents of Aamjiwnaang when accidents happen at one of the refineries or other industrial facilities in the area didn’t sound until more than an hour after the spill was reported and long after people began to notice the smell and experience physical symptoms.

Air quality testing, conducted more than five hours after the smell was detected, found elevated levels of chemicals associated with petroleum refining around the community including the known human carcinogen benzene which was at a particularly high level near the daycare. In the wake of the incident, residents reported health effects to the local health centre including headaches, nausea, shortness of breath and skin irritation. The acute effects are troubling, but even scarier for many residents are the poorly understood long-term effects of repeated exposure to dangerous chemicals over a lifetime.

The first court appearance will be on February 13, 2015.

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