Group sues over high pollution levels


In what looks like a modern day Erin Brockovich story, Ada Lockridge and Ronald Plain of the Aamjiwnaang First Nations Tribe and Ecojustice are actively suing the Ontario government, director of the ministry of the environment and Suncor for the pollution in Chemical Valley and the negative impact it is having on the lives of the Aamjiwnaang tribe.

Lockridge originally joined an ad hoc environmental committee on the reserve to stop the implementation of what would be the world’s largest standing ethanol plant, by Suncor and the removal of 60 per cent of the area’s trees.

When her application to sit on the committee was rejected she took matters into her own hands and teamed up with Ecojustice, a Canadian non-profit environmental law firm.

“I thought, ‘that’s not going to stop me from doing my environmental work’” said Lockridge. “I cannot walk away knowing all the stuff that I know.”

Associate professor of psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University Manuel Riemer explained that the reserve lands are located near Chemical Valley, which is just south of Sarnia, Ontario, “The most polluted area in Canada.”

“I’ve lived here on the reserve pretty much my whole life. Industry has always surrounded us,” said Lockridge.

Reimer explained, “The reserve is completely encircled with smoke stacks, you cannot look in any direction and not see one.”

This is what prompted Lockridge to get involved. “I always thought that the government was looking out for us. I didn’t think people weren’t doing things that they weren’t allowed to do.” For Lockridge, this is about her own individual rights. “Nowhere did I give up the right to breathe in clean air,” she said. “It’s our individual rights that we’re fighting for but in the long run it’s for everyone because I’m not the only one breathing in this air.”

The problem of pollution in Chemical Valley is that the government does not consider the cumulative effects of pollution in an area when approving construction of plants. Riemer explained, “They [the government officials] are only looking at one place that isn’t polluting above the limit but when you add them up it’s way above the limit.”

“Industry says they only do what the government tells them to do and the government does what the law tells them to,” said Lockridge.

“So we want the law to find ways to reduce this.” In the trial Riemer served as an expert witness, evaluating the psychological impact on the community of living so close to the pollution. “There is a psychological impact because of the stress like sirens which go off when there is some sort of release, so there is a constant fear and anxiety,” he said.

“This is just another case of environmental injustices where First Nation’s communities suffer the most and the rest of us profit from it,” concluded Riemer.

Currently, the ministry is collecting counter evidence, which will be presented in December.

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