Chemical plant seeks more time on emissions order as MP warns it may close

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Ineos Styrolution is asking the federal environment ministry for time to safely comply at its Sarnia styrene plant with a recent order limiting benzene emissions.

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SARNIA – Ineos Styrolution is asking the federal environment ministry for time to safely comply at its Chemical Valley styrene plant with a recent order limiting benzene emissions.

The company said in a statement it has “expressed its concern to Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) about the potential safety risks of a rushed program to destock benzene from its Sarnia site.”

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Last week, federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault’s May 17 interim order limiting cancer-causing benzene releases at all Sarnia-area petrochemical plants was extended for up to two years. The order, made under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, came weeks after elevated levels of benzene were recorded around the Ineos Styrolution plant in Sarnia, which makes styrene from benzene.

Benzene, a natural component of petroleum, is the simplest organic, aromatic hydrocarbon, according to britannica.com. It is highly toxic and is a known carcinogen; exposure to it may cause leukemia.

“ECCC has ordered us to empty all benzene from our tanks,” company representative Brian Lucas said in a statement. “This is not a routine procedure and requires meticulous planning.

“We must establish rigorous protocols, which need approval from multiple regulatory bodies. While we understand ECCC’s urgency, we are clear: safety, not speed, must be the primary consideration.”

The company said it has “respectfully requested that ECCC allow sufficient time to safely implement” steps needed to fulfil its request.

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The company is also subject to provincial orders to reduce benzene emissions at the site, which has been temporarily idled.

“Ineos has always complied with the regulations of the day,” said Sarnia-Lambton Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu, an engineer who worked in the petrochemical industry before entering politics.

“I just think they need time, and they shouldn’t be punished while they’re doing their best to comply,” she said.

Ineos said benzene is a byproduct of gasoline production that is removed to make vehicle emissions safer, and the company’s facility in Sarnia specializes in converting benzene into other products.

It has pointed out in past statements that its plant is not the only source of benzene emissions in the Sarnia area.

On April 16, the Aamjiwnaang First Nation next to Sarnia called for the shutdown of the nearby Ineos plant as an air-quality monitoring station near the band office recorded high benzene levels and residents complained of headaches, nausea and dizziness.

The First Nation later declared a local state of emergency due to what it described as “ongoing and excessive” discharges of benzene.

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On May 1, Ontario’s Environment Ministry said it was suspending Ineos Styrolution’s environmental compliance approval amid continuing high benzene levels, despite previous provincial orders for corrective action.

The suspension keeps the already temporarily closed plant idle until it removes all benzene storage, repairs leaky equipment, installs vapour control measures and comes up with a comprehensive benzene monitoring and community notification plan, provincial officials said.

Ineos Styrolution has appealed the suspension.

Gladu expressed concern the facility could permanently close due to the regulations. “Ineos is a global company. They can operate in any jursdiction.”

pmorden@postmedia.com

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  1. Five buildings on Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia were closed for the second day in a row on Wednesday, April 17, 2024, after community members reported headaches, nausea and dizziness on Tuesday that officials attribute to high benzene levels. (Sarnia Observer file photo)

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