Canada: First Nation exposed to high levels of cancer-causing chemicals

A First Nations community in Canada has learned that levels of a cancer-causing chemical in its air are 44 times higher than is considered safe, after years of fighting for the data.

Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Ontario is surrounded on all sides by petrochemical facilities, and members have long suspected that the facilities in “Chemical Valley” have exposed them to potentially dangerous substances. .

Data obtained using freedom of information laws by Global News has revealed elevated levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, and sulphur dioxide – and indicated the provincial government had previously known the levels were far higher than the province’s standard.

After a 2019 visit to Aamjiwnaang, Baskut Tuncak, the UN special rapporteur on toxic chemicals, told the Guardian: “I was struck by the incredible proximity of the affected First Nation to dozens of intense chemical production and processing facilities, which resulted in incredible releases of pollution and waste affecting the [residents’] health.”

A bill meant to tackle environmental racism passed through a number of committees earlier this year, but died after a snap election was called by the Liberal government.

The bill would have required the federal government to collect data on where environmental hazards such as pulp mills, dumps and mines are located and study whatever links exist between race and health. The bill would have also required Ottawa to compensate communities whose air, water and land is poisoned by industry, and to ensure they are consulted on future development projects.

The Ontario government has recently moved forward with proposed new rules that would strengthen emissions caps as well as require companies to disclose emissions data with affected First Nations. Already, emissions have seen a drop in recent years but are still above the province’s benchmark.

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