Canada's Toxic Chemical Valley

2013 ,    »  -   49 Comments
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Ratings: 8.49/10 from 76 users.
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Canada's Toxic Chemical Valley

The First Nation of Aamjiwnaang's burial grounds is located in Sarnia, Ontario. These people have been there for hundreds of years. And about 70 years ago, they got some great new neighbors. The first thing you notice when you visit Sarnia, Ontario, is the smell. Imagine a mixture of gasoline, melting asphalt, and a trace of rotten egg smacking you in the face and crawling up your nose every time you breathe. It's a cocktail that will make you unpleasantly high and dizzy.

That smell is coming from the chemical valley, where 40% of Canada's petrochemical industry is located in a 25 square area. The chemical valley is responsible for the production of gasoline, plastics, pesticides, fertilizers, cosmetics, and a whole bunch of other chemicals that Canadian society relies on.

And it's estimated that in 2013 alone, the Canadian petrochemical industry will generate $24 billion in sales. Two years ago, thanks to the 60 petrochemical plants and oil refineries that operate in the chemical valley 24/7, the World Health Organization gave Sarnia the title of the worst air in all of Canada.

This is a serious health concern for the people of Aamjiwnaang, as their community has consistently claimed to have higher cancer and miscarriage rates than the national average, and yet the government has not launched a proper health study to investigate their allegations.

Tensions between the First Nations community of Canada, the government, and the petrochemical industry have been running high for a very long time. Regular participation in highway blockades and protests are the norm for many First Nations communities in Canada who are pushing back against environmental damage to their native land.

One of the major issues that the residents of Aamjiwnaang need to deal with are chemical leaks from the plants themselves. Often times, these leaks go unreported, and in the first half of 2013 alone, there were three spills of hydrogen sulfide. One of them sent several small children from Aamjiwnaang's daycare to the hospital.

Once VICE heard about Aamjiwnaang'g struggle, they knew they had to go visit the chemical valley themselves to try and get a better sense of how the relationship between the First Nations and the petrochemical industry is being handled, what's being done to ensure the safety of the people of Aamjiwnaang, and what the future of the chemical valley holds.

They visited Sarnia while a high profile energy conference was being held. Political leaders and energy executives had converged on the city to discuss how more money could be squeezed out of Canada's most valuable resource - their oil. As you might imagine, the people of Aamjiwnaang were not happy to hear that more industry would be coming their way.

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49 Comments / User Reviews

  1. willymayshayes

    If every house had solar panels we wouldn't need oil.

  2. willymayshayes

    I don't understand how so many could care so little about our environment.

  3. avd420

    I read it takes like 75 years for a solar panel to offset the energy used to create it.

    "The First Nation of Aamjiwnaang’s burial grounds is located in Sarnia, Ontario. These people have been there for hundreds of years. And about 70 years ago, they got some great new neighbors."

    That's really old news. Any land in Canada that has a population above a 1000 could probably have that phrase repeated with grains of truth behind it. You're going to have to try much harder to manipulate my sensitivities, VICE.

  4. Pysmythe

    I like your spirit, but surely you know it isn't really that simple. Petroleum in some form is used in so many products in the modern world that to get out from under critical dependence on it will take changing just about everything.

  5. willymayshayes

    researchers projecting that the industry will be generating enough power between 2015 and 2020 to offset all of the historic creation costs.

    75 yrs is no where close.

    The more we invest in research the more efficient the process and the panels will be. The efficiency is already steadily increasing while the cost is decreasing... sound bad, how?

  6. willymayshayes

    Yes it would mean changing a lot of things, but the time to start moving heavily in that direction is now. oil based products such as plastics are harmful to the environment. Biodegradable packaging is already here. Lubricants etc. all have solutions.

    We (the US) could pioneer the movement, creating more jobs and eventual financial independence.
    And then there's the whole cleaner environment argument which is more than esthetically pleasing.

  7. Mark Lewis

    These cannot be produced without oil, so for every new house you would need a new panel.

  8. Pysmythe

    The promise of a serious move toward cleaner energy and a green economy (along with transparency in government...) was the single biggest reason I voted for Obama the first time around. I really did have hopes he was not only going to end the warmongering horsecrap, but was going to begin the serious work of building up an infrastructure to support renewable resources, and this as one of the chief ways of creating jobs and getting us out of the Recession. I have been so disappointed in that man...

  9. willymayshayes

    This is my sentiment exactly. Can't wait to vote for the next empty suit.

  10. Pysmythe

    I'm voting third party next time (probably the Green Party). This especially includes state and local elections, as long as there's a candidate available. If this means, as I'm sure it will, that I'm "throwing my vote away" until "everyone else can catch up with me," well, then, that's exactly the way I'll look at it. I can't in good conscience vote Democratic, anymore.

  11. Pysmythe

    "Impacting the community is unacceptable, and we're looking at ways to try and improve that."
    No the hell you aren't... Your CEO made an excuse about health studies needing to be carried out by the Canadian government before meaningful action can be taken, when you know that serious upgrades in your equipment right now would reduce the health risks and environmental impact you're already aware of. It's inexcusable for companies making billions not to lay out millions for improvements, paid for by the company (at least to begin with), if that's what it takes.

  12. willymayshayes

    Good for you, your certainly not alone.
    As a matter of fact, there needs to be a change and we are going to have to make it happen.

  13. Wayne Siemund

    Haven't you noticed? Society has been transformed to the point that money is more important than people. We no longer notice the difference because it has become normal. Oh, we seem to care about situations, but not really the people in those situations.

  14. LoggerheadShrike

    No, Sarnia is nothing like most other centres. You have to go there to see. All the really dirty stuff nobody else wants is there. The smell penetrates everything, even a gas mask.

  15. Matt Kukowski

    What you need to realise is that they KNOW about the pollution. The people that actually own and profit from the pollution ( oil and chemicals ) are LAUGHING AT YOU.

    1) YOU buy the stuff they are creating. They are lauging.
    2) YOU are too many (population over load)... so if YOU buy the things that will KILL YOU, they get to profit AND get rid of the problem. (you are the problem, or over population )

    They are LAUGHING at you. You buy the very stuff YOU are protesting against. We all do. In the process it kills you, and you are not wanted anymore.

    They are ALL Laughing at you. The problem is bigger than you think.

    Now if I am wrong about that I just said, and they just do not know... the argument still holds.

    REGARDLESS if this is all planned or not. The fact is, pollution and over population will continue, planned or unplanned.

  16. avd420

    I've been there and worked there. It's verrrryyy nasty. I was referring to the land claims though.

  17. jdizzle

    So are you saying that because this travesty is so ubiquitous, that it's happened to so many first nations groups all over the country, that makes it OK? Or just that you've become so desensitized to the fact that now you feel it's OK?

  18. LoggerheadShrike

    Oh, I see what you're saying. Burial grounds are not the basis of the land claim, though. They're just upset that their cemeteries are being desecrated; it isn't a legal argument for the land claim. Truth be told I think the land claim was a desperate maneuver that wouldn't have happened except for their situation. It failed, and they probably knew it would.

  19. Deanna Loretta D

    I'm going to watch this film. I tend to go along with Matt's
    statement.
    The pollution is killing us, other species, the Earth itself.
    Humans better evolve now.
    Cancer is an epidemic in the USA and it's all connected
    to what we eat, our environment, the drugs, and now,]
    unless you eat food that is certified organic, you are
    ingesting GMOs, all kinds of pesticides, etc.
    I've lived long enough now to see what is happening.
    As long as humans continue to allow a few gross people
    to control the rest of us, I see a sad future for the coming
    generation.
    Where is the self-control?
    If enough people would reject fossil fuels and become
    part of a world movement towards clean, renewable
    energy, that would be the first thing towards a healthier
    Planet.
    It's time to stop the violence and start getting together to
    solve these problems.
    A group of people can change things.
    Wake up!
    Humans are the worst species that ever walked the Earth.
    But there are a few enlightened Earthlings who are trying
    to do what is right.
    I've heard of some people who are now able to live off the
    grid. Just think of how good that must feel.
    Your money counts.
    Everyone can do something, even if it's just to sign
    petitions.
    The government isn't going to do enough, most
    politicians are not fit to hold office and rule over the
    rest of us.
    Complaining alone is not enough, what we need is Action!

  20. avd420

    Well, yes it's OK. I'm fine with it and so is everyone else, that makes it OK. You may say you're not fine with it, but acting mad about it for a moment or two doesn't equal action. And since you don't act against it, your actions say it's OK no matter what your words say.

  21. henrymart81

    yet y'all voted for him *again*

  22. Tim

    My fear is that the "change" that willymayshayes is hoping for is another Fascist like Bush or Romney: Since Obama isn't "perfect", let's go back to another disaster like Nixon/Reagan/Bush/Bush/Cheyney/Romney and dig yet another hole. Get a grip, people!

    And why is it that so many who are critical of the current administration so consistently don't know the difference between "your" and "you're"? What does that say about their education? Home schooling?

  23. willymayshayes

    To me It's a typo, but to you it's your entire argument. Nice.

    I don't know what a potential 3rd party has to do with any of those names you listed...

    "Business as usual" is what Obama vowed to change, and yet, that is the type of "business" Obama implemented in his first month of office.

    Biggest problem with gov't is the ties to big business which leads to corruption. It is by FAR the biggest issue and that is what I want to get rid of.

  24. John Marus

    1) Everybody is LAUGHING at you
    2) Pollution will keep population in check

    it's a bit more complex, my friend, than numbered lists can explain. So should we all just give up now?

  25. John Marus

    I'm going to watch this film?? Is that really your first sentence. Perhaps you should watch it first before writing your thesis.

  26. Matt Kukowski

    pollution will keep population in check? have you looked around laterly? Population is going UP... pollution is going UP. Including non human populations like bears and bees and birds.

    Man if you think pollution is the answer to the population problem ... then maybe we need to pollute some more?

    how about educating people not to have so many kids for no reason, then wonder why they can not afford to raise them properly.

    Population control is already in full use. It is called MONEY. Contract the economy and it is harder to have 12 kids.

    THE PROBLEM, is that people will never stop reproducing. Last I heard it is pretty fun and people like having kids. They are trying sterilization and just poison in India and Africa. Is population under control there?

    NO !

    Education of why 12 kids might not be good is NEVER taught formally. No, instead we poison and pollute like damn fools. And we are left with even MORE people and the pollution.

  27. Matt Kukowski

    I would say Money IS the number one problem. This is what money gets you.

    1) If you run bug Oil, Pharma or Guns ... the LAST thing you want is Free Energy, natural cures and smarter well educated people to deal with the Gun problem.

    2) If you have Money, you can make, guess what? MORE MONEY !

    3) If you are a bank, you can take depositors (other peoples money) and loan it out TIMES 7. AND charge interest ! HAHA wow, what a great system we have

    4) When the prime worry is, "Where will the money come from?" We forget to worry about real issues and instead focus on ANY MEANS to get Money. If it means you have to do bad things to feed you and your kids, well, can you blame them?

    Money has become such a problem for one VERY obvious reason.

    Technology and the automation and speed at which the factories can make things. Robots and computers are taking all the jobs.

    This will lead us into two worlds.

    1) Once robots are doing most the work, we can focus on REAL problems and do it in a thoughtful human way.

    OR scenario #2 ... (the current model of thought)

    2) Once robots are doing most the work, we can focus on how we NO LONGER need humans. humans become a PEST to factory owners... So, we must kill as many 'useless eaters' as possible BEFORE they figure out what is really going on.

    Which world do you think will happen? I mean, if #2 actually occurs ... do you really think anyone will even remember how all the computers and robots work, when something breaks? No! Because they killed em all off !!!

    now, we can get even more evil, by keeping the computer programmers and robot builders as slaves to ensure they are around to keep the factories running so we Elites can play golf, have 12 wives and go for the brain upload into a super computer to become Immortal. Seriously, this is how really rich people actually think. Not all of em, but most of em look at Humans as becoming a PESKY business they need to 'manage'.

    The funny part, is that the Elites have little to no idea how to computer program much less build a robot, which is the very thing that is making them ALL THAT MONEY! (I mean wealth.)

    just my 2 cents ... keep truckin

  28. Pysmythe

    Listen, if Ron Paul had made it as the Republican candidate, I would've voted for him solely for his foreign policy views. That having failed, you did see the alternative (in what was touted as a close race...), right?

  29. catfur1903

    This makes me sick, the world isn't going to h*ll in a handbasket, we're already here. Yeah, corporate America,

  30. bringmeredwine

    There is hope my friend.
    An engineer in Japan has built a machine no larger than a fridge to convert any form of plastic back into useable oil.
    He is demonstrating this device all over the world.
    Imagine taking all the plastics out of your wastebasket and using them to fuel your car or heat your home?
    The oil companies must HATE this guy.
    I watched a video about this amazing man in an e-mail recently.
    Wish I could tell you his name.

  31. snodgrass

    This is happening all over the world, largely due to our habits of consumption so it`s everybody`s problem. To fix this we need to think when we buy something or turn on a switch, about the price we are paying to get it..! Hands up all those who would like rationing at the gas station, One set of tires every five years and one pair of shoes every year, food shortages & bleach to pour down the sink, No one would like that, but the sixty four thousand dollar question is, what are we prepared to do to stop it. As long as we ask for cheap Goods corporate business will make it, Somewhere...!
    It`s just very unfortunate that these people are now on it`s doorstep and suffering.. Answers on a Post Card..

  32. dfg

    Unfortunately even certified organic is GMO.
    How can you have 'organic' seedless watermelons.
    Where would the seeds come from for future plants.
    Seedless=GMO
    On a different note.
    What exactly is organic?
    I am not an expert, research yourself.
    Organic always goes on about the pesticide and the plays with the words of 'intentional/unitentional' and 'mostly' for the topic of GMO.
    Never direct.
    Also many GMO plants are marketed as just that, that they don't need to be sprayed as they have been modified to kill the intruders.
    Scary, but it might just be that organic is potentially just as or even more GMO.
    I realise that I have put in the words 'might' and 'potentially', but that is because I am not an expert.
    But do your own research and question.
    We alll have to and to keep sharing our views.

  33. Eric

    I am 100% on board with the increased H&S regulations for this. But after 70 years of being in the area....why would you have 3 kids? seems like a poor area to bring CHILDREN INTO! Yes i get that this shit shouldnt be going on...i agree....but if you live in CHEMICAL VALLEY....why the f--k would you reproduce? Great job setting up your kids that you care so much for....it's selfish indulgence on the parents part for having a bunch of kids....and criminal negligence (in my opinion) from the company/factory for KILLING people with cancer....where the hell is the Candian Governement? apparently Canada is not as good of a country as i thought.

  34. Eric

    like John said there is a bigger problem than the pollution...."how about educating people not to have so many kids for no reason, then wonder why they can not afford to raise them properly" as you so eloquently put it...The one woman said she had 3 kids there, in a known polluted area....doesn't seem like a good parenting choice...if the corporations are legally obligated to prevent as much toxins getting into the environment then shouldn't people be legally obligated to be responsible as parents? Over population is the problem...

  35. Eric

    its the few profiting off the backs of desperate people....so many people are broke....so few are way too rich

  36. Kate

    I am curious as to why asbestos was introduced and it's connection to chemical valley. I would like to make it very clear that asbestos has developed a rather unfortunate name for itself and not all varieties will cause severe health defects as described in the film. Asbestos describes any mineral with long, flexible, fiber-like crystals. Chrysotile (white asbestos) is the common asbestos mineral used in industry. It has only been associated with cancer in poorly ventilated situations. That being said, any dust particle can cause lung damage if it is not properly expelled. The truly carcinogenic asbestos mineral is crocidolite (blue asbestos). Crocidolite has a hook-like fiber which can latch on to your lung preventing expulsion. This inevitably causes harm as our bodies can not breath it out or break it down. With chrysotile (white asbestos), our bodies are able to get rid of the mineral particles, except, as mentioned before, in cases with insufficiently filtered air. These cases in which I speak are asbestos mills! So, the culprit in Mr. Kinart's case is improper work conditions, not the solely the mineral.

  37. Margaret

    The city of Sarnia with a population of 72,366 in 2011 is also suffering from the effects of the oil and gas industry. They breathe in the same toxic air as do the First Nations people. The citizens of Sarnia and surrounding area suffer from cancer at a much higher rate than the province average. Hospital data during the 1990s show that the overall cancer rate is 34 percent higher for men living in the community. the lung-cancer rate 50 per cent higher, the mesothelioma rate five times higher and the asbestosis rate nine times higher. But the figures dramatically underestimate the risks individual workers face because the majority of the people in Sarnia haven't had industrial exposures, according to Mr. Brophy.

    We need to face the oil and gas companies together.

  38. Unbiased

    I felt that the concerns raised by this documentary were valid, however the information provided was seemingly misleading. To begin I am curious the names of the 60 petrochemical companies in Sarnia, and of those which produce cosmetics. The environmental credits that are referred to seem to be very similar of those of the Kyoto mechanisms discussed by the UN several years ago. If you visit Sarnia you will notice that the air is not as described in this documentary. There are "fugitive emissions" that are recorded with Environment Canada in the events of leaks or spills, but other than that there is continual monitoring to ensure that what is being put into the air by these facilities is within government regulation. Maybe this documentary should be focused on a bigger picture rather than pursuing a small municipality?

    The health effects of Chemical Valley are now coming to light, and although I have been unable to find supporting data I'm sure that the cancer rates are much closer to average than they were 20 years ago. Knowing the adverse health effects of asbestos and benzene the government has placed exposure limits (extremely low) to ensure that one's health is not compromised. That being said, every facility in the chemical valley will have their own engineered way of controlling exposure to ALL hazardous materials. Ultimately everyone wants to live a long and happy life with their family, this includes the "big wigs" and decision makers that work on site in these chemical plants.

    Another point that I find misleading is that the "cloud makers" mentioned were putting steam into the atmosphere, which technically speaking, clouds are made of water...

    From an economic standpoint, without the oil and gas industry Sarnia would become a ghost town, there would be nothing left but a Walmart and a McDonalds where all the people that work at Walmart and McDonalds can shop and eat.

    I have great empathy for all those who have been affected by the lack of understanding of what some of the chemicals in the valley can do over a period of time. I truly hope that the people of Aamjiwnaang are able to continue living peacefully without the worry of pollutants affecting their quality of life.

    So moving forward I ask you to think about the things that you use in everyday life that support the petrochemical industy. Did you drive to work (or take any transportation that needs fuel)? Do you have asphalt shingles on your house? Is there nylon or polyester in your clothing? How many plastic containers are in your fridge or bathroom?

    Either way, I can't really think of a way to wrap this up, other than correcting the documentary in that Centennial Park in downtown Sarnia is closed due to the discovery of lead, and the city doesn't have the money to clean it up, which is unfortunate, and not caused by the petrochemical industries in Sarnia.

    P.S. have the asbestos content checked on NEW ceramic tiles from Home Depot, or Lowes... you'd be surprised.

  39. Unbiased

    population of bees is going down... thx GMO... just sayin.

  40. Erin

    It was talked about because there is some still there, and there are people who are currently dying from it - or at least getting tested regularly since the incubation period is so long. The plants have mostly phased it out - and any place where the /might/ be asbestos is marked - but off the top of my head the two biggest culprits for exposure in the valley were pipe insulation and fire blankets (which people used to take naps on/under). It was also found in gaskets, 'fireproof' paint (used on structural steel among other things) and concrete, again, among many other things.

    The newest of the facilities (apart from the two co-gens under construction at the moment) was built in the 70s. Asbestos wasn't known to be harmful then. /They didn't know any better/. You could, after all, find asbestos in oven mitts once upon a time.

  41. Erin

    Its nice to see a voice of reason.

    Nobody in Lambton County produces cosmetics. There are not 60 petro companies either, unless you also count engineering firms, suppliers and contractors in the mix. That would be stretching the truth a bit though... then again...

    I must admit, I stopped watching as soon as Ipperwash was mentioned. The little statement about Dudley George's death was about a LAND DISPUTE with the GOVERNMENT over a defunct MILITARY BASE from WW2. It has absolutely nothing to do with the chemical valley.

    Oh, and those protests? The "Idle No More" movement in Sarnia was a blockade of CN rail in response to one of the omnibus bills put through by the Harper government that affected native rights and treaties in some way (I don't remember how). They happened all over the country, not just in Sarnia and I'm pretty sure those clips aren't even from the area.

    Three lies in under three minutes. I'm sure there's some truth in there somewhere, but I'm not wasting 30min of my life to find it.

  42. Megan

    it is in canada.

  43. Letem Dangle

    Environmentalist mixing with first nations to politicize and then get funding. In another word propaganda.

  44. Dawn

    Ugh I seriously wish the native people would shut up already ! They are always whining about something ! Their "claim" everything is our land blah blah blah is way beyond annoying ! Pity poor them they have such a tough life....BULLS*IT ! They have a better life than 99% of us who live in Sarnia ! They have more money than your average citizen & they don't pay taxes AND they have their disgusting smoke shacks if you can call it that...their cigarettes smell and taste like rolled up dog s*it and I would NEVER buy them ! They drive around in brand new cars & trucks & abuse the help centers more than white people do so they can have more money to spend on bingo or the casino or their drugs.Feel sorry for them ? NOPE !!!! They have MORE arrests and convictions and are more violent than the white citizens of Sarnia.I know someone who personally was ripped off by one for thousands of dollars to the point they were forced from their home and ended up losing the $90,000.00 they paid for it.If they don't like Sarnia than they can get the hell out of it and go live in Ipperwash for all I care.Good riddance !

  45. LegsArmstrong

    Wow, that is incredibly rude. People built a polluting industry right next to an existing community without even asking or giving them a choice, and you're going to blame them for the problems in the area? All you give them is tax breaks and you still think it's too much? Money isn't even worth comparing to health, and I highly doubt they are very wealthy anyway.

    The real problem here is our continued overuse of things that damage the world around us which we don't need in the first place. We shouldn't be inventing novel chemicals and mass-producing them, they will inevitably get into the world around us, and may permanently damage it. We shouldn't do something without first knowing for sure that the sustainability of our society isn't hindered by it.

    I am glad though, to see that your area's industry has been shifting toward newer technologies that help speed up the transition from a petroleum-based society to one that can go on existing forever.

  46. LegsArmstrong

    The only propaganda I see is from these oil and chemical companies trying to trick people into thinking that these things aren't destroying our society's future.

  47. LegsArmstrong

    Don't listen to the paid, special-interests commenters trying to lessen the blow of this exposure. This is a tragic case of native cultures not having the resources to defend themselves from greedy abuses of land. I'm glad people are standing up for both the natives and other people of Sarnia; the stronger these kind of movements are the faster we can move to a cleaner future for the world.

  48. Sixlo

    The only way we can realistically stop, or at least slow down the production of chemicals is to start thinking about all of the chemicals we use. Whatever we don't use - they won't need to make. Read a label. It's on us. WE own this. Don't wait for the next person to start. Start.
    Do this thing!

  49. Miu Color

    Just liberal nonsense and not a fact to be found. Accidents happen, it's in the companies best interest not to poison the environment believe it or not. Bluegill, or any predatory fish for that matter, have mercury. Those poison CO2 clouds that are killing the earth per mother and children (so take that with a grain of salt) are actually causing plants to grow. Skip this video.

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