Canada's Toxic Chemical Valley

Canada's Toxic Chemical Valley

2013, Environment  -   56 Comments
Ratings: 8.30/10 from 99 users.

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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5 years ago

As someone who has lived in Sarnia and worked in the plants, this is all propaganda.

If you really want to stop oil companies, stop driving cars and using plastics which use the refined oil we make.

Also there is an extremely large alternative energy sector with wind mills and solar producing energy, as well as a co generation plant which runs off of natural gas instead of coal.

We have two of 9 ethanol plants in Canada which create ethanol from corn, which we blend into other gasoline stocks, which have a carbon neutral output.

So, if you learn anything, learn that Vice came here with an agenda to push and lied about our community. Obviously cancer rates are higher if you live beside a refinery. It's not rocket science.

There are people of many communities that live there, it isn't just the natives. They're just trying to play the race card again...

6 years ago

All these comments from people who have never even been to Sarnia are too funny.
This doc is nothing more than a propaganda piece plain and simple.
The amount of misinformation and outright lies is in this doc are alarming.

Miu Color
7 years ago

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.

7 years ago

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!

8 years ago

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.

8 years ago

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 !

Letem Dangle
8 years ago

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

9 years ago

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.

9 years ago

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.

9 years ago

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.

9 years ago

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'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.

9 years ago

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..

10 years ago

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

Deanna Loretta D
10 years ago

I'm going to watch this film. I tend to go along with Matt's
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
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
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
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!

10 years ago

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.

Wayne Siemund
10 years ago

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.

10 years ago

"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.

10 years ago

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

10 years ago

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